Planning for the future of West Hampstead

We are entering a new phase in the evolution of West Hampstead. Does that sound like hyperbole? Well, there are so many large-scale plans waiting to be submitted that if they were all to be implemented as they stand, the look and feel of the area would change substantially.

On Monday there was a meeting chaired by Cllrs Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) and Flick Rea (Fortune Green) at the behest of James Earl from the Fordwych Road Residents Association. James’s idea is to bring together all the local RAs, and other community groups such as WHAT, to form a Neighbourhood Development Plan.

I’m not going to go into all the details of what an NDP is here, partly because there are many issues still to be clarified (there’s a bit more here), but it’s part of the Localism Bill that’s going through parliament at the moment. The general idea is to give people more power over local developments, although almost certainly not as much as many people would like: the plan must fit in with the borough’s plan, the London plan (which has already earmarked West Hampstead for intensification and 800 new homes) and national planning strategy, and it cannot propose less development, only more or a redistribution of sites.

Nor is this going to happen overnight – it will be spring 2012 before NDPs can be submitted. Which is a problem in terms of mobilising to address the more imminent plans for the 187-199 West End Lane site (see next blog).

The meeting was reasonably productive, although inevitably people have differing views about development, which might make it hard producing a plan that pleases everyone. The idea of RAs joining forces was broadly welcomed, and the topic will be discussed at the next West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group, which is provisionally scheduled for December 6th.

There was some criticism about the lack of impact the place shaping workshops had seemed to have, although the outcomes of those will more guide what happens to council-owned sites that will be developed, such as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building.

Even if the NDP may not have much impact on sites where plans are being drawn up now, it could be very influential on land that might come up for development over the next few years – such as the O2 car park (long talked about as ripe for development), or swathes of Iverson Road.

There are some issues to resolve about the boundaries of any plan, and who should be involved. People living on the western fringes of Swiss Cottage ward, for example, are very much part of West Hampstead and would certainly be affected by developments around the tube/Overground interchange area (yet bizarrely aren’t included in the consulation area for the 187-199 West End Lane site).

Anne Heymann, chair of the Local Consultation Group (set up some years ago to address the large-scale interchange project that would have merged all three stations and was then shelved) argued that sitting down with architects and developers and putting in the legwork was what really made a difference to  plans.

It’ll be interesting to see what the perspective from the broader community is when the idea is discussed at the AAG, but it’s encouraging that groups from across the area want to come together to discuss proposals that might not have an impact on their immediate street.

If your whampstead house needs haunting…

Halloween time again. An excuse to dig out the facepaints and get your goth on, or to hide indoors munching a large slice of pumpkin pie. The choice is yours (Mmm… pie).

What are your options this year for spooky revels? Surprise surprise, The Gallery and The Alice House once again lead the way with their Halloween parties. The Alice House’s kicks off at 7pm on Saturday and runs through to 1am with a DJ. There are prizes for the best costumes (1st prize – dinner for two, 2nd prize – bottle of bubbly [does that mean not champagne?], and the best dressed group wins a round of shots).

Over at The Gallery, well, it’s much the same. No DJ, but the bar’s open until 2am, which is confusing because the clocks go back at 2am on Sunday morning, so does that mean an extra hour of drinking? Fancy dress is still encouraged (although when I walked past last year, most people seemed to just be wearing black).

The Priory Tavern has a pumpkin carving competition on Saturday from 3-6pm (max 15 entrants/teams). The regulars will vote on the winners (which is a scary prospect in itself), who’ll be announced on Bonfire Night and will win a decent bottle of red wine. The popular 12 Bars blues band are playing Saturday night and on Halloween itself it’s the usual 2-for-1 on house cocktails on “Happy Mondays” (seem to have missed the point of Halloween there!)

Over in Kilburn, the North London Tavern has a Halloween Horror night finishing at 1am. Prizes for the best dressed, ghostly drinks specials all night, and apparently tricks and treats!

The Railway is your Halloween antidote – it’s decided not to do anything special this year, so if you want to escape the slime-coloured shots and zombie-clad wannabes, this is the place for you on Saturday night.

The Good Ship prides itself on not overly pandering to or exploiting Hallmark holidays, but it likes to give a nod to Halloween, so on Saturday night, there’s an evening of Halloween fun with a spooky short film and then four live acts from 8-11.30pm and of course DJs until 4am.

It won’t have escaped your notice that all this is happening on Saturday, which is NOT the 31st. Halloween itself is on Monday night and where better to spend it than laughing your little vampire socks off at The Good Ship comedy club, where host Ghouliet Stephens (don’t blame her for that, I came up with it all by myself) will be introducing a top night of comedy headlined by the outstanding Pappy’s (if you’ve not seen them, now’s your chance), and she’s claiming there might be pumpkin pie. 

Have a fun weekend everyone – look out for our three local spooky tweeters @ghostontoast, @Ghoul_of_London and the deliciously strange @MarmiteGhost. And if you think it will make any difference whatsoever, here’s a poster the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team have circulated for those who aren’t in the Trick or Treat mood.

Click and Treat for full-size

Life in the slow lane

Not only is Camden hell bent on letting cyclists ride whichever way they choose up one-way streets, it’s also trying to slow traffic down in West Hampstead as well. It’s almost like there’s some sort of concerted plan to improve things in the area. Crazy.

As with the cycling plans, this will be paid for by TfL and the rationale seems to be safety. Much of West Hampstead (aside from West End Lane) already has a 20mph limit. However, many of the residential roads to the west and West End Lane itself are still 30mph and the council claims these roads have a relatively poor safety record compared to neighbouring 20mph streets. Indeed, between September 2007 and September 2010, 39 collisions were reported, resulting in four serious injuries.

In addition to signage, traffic calming measures are being proposed. On the residential streets, the junction of Sumatra Road and Glenbrook Road will be raised and road humps will be added at the junction of Solent Road and Glenbrook Road (just on Solent Rd, not the entire junction).

Click for larger version

On West End Lane itself, the 20mph zone will run from the junction with Quex Road in the south, to the junction with Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road in the north.

There will be three other measures to improve road safety: the pavement running north from Inglewood Road will be widened – the council claims this will improve the aesthetic appeal of the street and the narrower road will help slow traffic. An island will be added to the zebra crossing that links Barclays Bank to the library, apparently in response to observations that cars do not always wait until pedestrians have completed their crossing before driving on (remember your Highway Code?). Finally, the island on the crossing at Lymington Road (the one by Tescos) will be removed and the pavement on the southern edge extended. In addition, all the signs indicating a change of speed limit to and from West End Lane can now be removed, reducing street clutter and there is the potential to remove more signage (this has been mooted for some time and some steps have already been taken around the entrance to the tube station).

Click for larger version

The residential road changes seem like no-brainers. I would be interested to know how many of the collisions that have taken place on West End Lane have happened at speeds in excess of 20mph, given that during the daytime the traffic is so slow-moving anyway there is little opportunity to reach 30mph. I am certainly in favour of removing excess signage and street clutter, although narrowing the road seems unncessary, given the number of buses and delivery vehicles that already contribute to bottlenecks on the road. The aim should surely be to encourage free-flowing traffic moving at a safe speed.

As with all speed limit issues, be it on motorways or residential streets, the issue is one of enforcement more than regulation.

For more comment on this issue, see Georgia’s article in the Camden New Journal.

The council is keen to hear from local residents and businesses to find out whether there is broad support for the proposals for the side streets, and whether the proposals for West End Lane would cause disruption during and after implementation. You need to make sure your letter or e-mail is received by November 11th and send it to:

London Borough of Camden
Culture and Environment Directorate
Transport Strategy Service

or e-mail , making sure you include your postal address.

Here’s the full document on the side streets, and on West End Lane.

Will cycling the wrong way soon be right?

Several of the roads in the southern half of West Hampstead are one-way. This is generally a good thing as it allows for on-street parking while keeping the traffic moving. However, if you’re a cyclist these restrictions may prove rather frustrating and the temptation is great to take a short-cut by cycling the wrong way down a one-way street. Aside from the illegality, this can be hazardous if neither cars nor pedestrians are expecting it.

Camden has decided to investigate this and is proposing to make some of these streets two-way for cyclists only. This is apparently called “cycle permeability”. Good ol’ local government and its penchant for language.

Making these changes is relatively cheap – a bit of signage is really all that’s needed – and will be paid for by TfL. The following roads would be affected: Priory, Canfield, Greencroft, Sherriff, Messina, Gascony, Fairhazel, Smyrna and Kingsgate Place.

Click for larger version

The council would like to hear from anyone who would be affected by the changes in terms of access to property/deliveries during the changeover, or from the eventual new system. The ward councillors on the Swiss Cottage side of West End Lane (to the east) have expressed their view “that local residents who use these streets every day as pedestrians, car drivers and cyclists should have a real input into decision making.”

The work is scheduled to be carried out betwen November and March. If you wish to comment on the idea, you need to make sure your letter or e-mail is received by November 11th and send it to:

London Borough of Camden
Culture and Environment Directorate
Transport Strategy Service

or e-mail , making sure you include your postal address.

Here’s the full consultation document [pdf download].

Tom enjoys sardines at Sirous

Always a pleasure to wander into Sirous on a lazy Sunday afternoon, especially when the intention is to eat and drink something from its varied and interesting menu. I have been known to scowl angrily at people who’ve already pinched all the comfortable, red leather sofa spaces, which is quite reasonable behaviour I think – but on my most recent visit I was in luck.

I enjoyed grilled sardines, with an immensely satisfying bowl of potato skins; crisp, yet with an oiliness ideal for combating hangovers. The guacamole was great too, and I enthusiastically alternated this with tomato ketchup, rather like a girl out shopping trying on two different pairs of shoes over and over again.

Sirous’ house red is a Crianza; I used to think “vanilla cream” descriptions were bandied about too often and sometimes a little bit silly – but this is a wine that fits the description. Really lovely stuff. I’ll be very happy to share a whole bottle with myself sometime soon. 

Coordinating West Hampstead planning?

Last week, the Fordwych Residents Association discussed concerns about the number of large developments being proposed in the area. James Earl, vice-chair, told me that the meeting came up with this list of 10 developments that have been recently built, are under construction, or have been proposed:

Sager development (FortuneGreen ) Residential block – built
Mill Lane Residential block – under construction
Maygrove Road One Housing Group/residential block – under construction
Handrail House (+car park), 65 Maygrove Road Possible demolition & new residential block
Liddell Road Proposed new school [pdf p39] & possible residential development
Iverson Road (old garden centre) Likely development of hotel or flats
156 West End Lane (council building) Likely demolition & new residential development [pdf p38]
Blackburn Road 9 storey student block approved & to be built
187 West End Lane Proposed 9-11 storey residential development
O2 Centre car park Possible future housing development

The meeting concluded that there seemed to be no over-arching plan to deal with these developments, which are all very close to each other, and which have the potential to change the character of West Hampstead and Fortune Green for ever.

At the recent placeshaping events, residents have expressed a desire to preserve the ‘village’ feel of the area; to reduce traffic and to create more green/open spaces. These developments, argue the residents association, appear to be focused on the complete opposite.

The FRA is proposing that a coalition of local residents associations use the powers of the Localism Bill (now going through Parliament) to create a “Neighbourhood Development Plan” for West Hampstead and Fortune Green. It is proposing that this issue to be on the agenda of the next Area Action Forum – with the aim of having a draft document in place by the end of the year.

Get involved in the 2011 Christmas market

You may remember that last year there was a very successful Christmas market on West End Green. Well, good news whampers – plans are afoot for a second one. However, to make it happen the organisers need a little bit of help from some of you.

Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill who is coordinating the event, is looking for some specific expertise and support.

  • People with experience in marketing/PR/promotion, including social networks (ok – there’s got to be SOMEONE reading this who fufills that criteria).
  • Stall holders, particularly local craftspeople or traders
  • Additional business sponsors.

If you’re interestedin helping, having a stall, or sponsoring the event, then please register your interest at or call Gillian on 07798 845919.

Tom gets autumnal at The Gallery

A gang of cheery West Hampstead locals descended upon The Gallery in Broadhurst Gardens to drink wine, talk rubbish, and have a bite to eat on Saturday night. I’d already had dinner of sorts (something I kept quiet), but the menu tempted me, partly as I’d been meaning to try the Autumn salad for a while. Tangy, creamy goat’s cheese worked well with little bricks of sautéed sweet potato, on a bed of leaves (salad ones, not leaves from the pavement outside). At £7, it wasn’t too expensive a dish, but for me a little light; next time I’ll happily eat the same, but accompanied by breads or chips.

Other plates around the table were very well received, such as the salmon, and lamb, both of which were also elegantly presented. I liked the Chilean Merlot, and the Pinot Grigio seemed popular too. All things considered, it’s easy to see why this bar is popular.

Glancing up at the drinkers above us looking down on proceedings, reminded me of one of my typically gormless comments a year or so ago, when I lazily asked “why’s this place called The Gallery?”. Sometimes, I’m better off keeping quiet and just sticking to my drinking.

Safer in your Neighbourhood

Want to meet your local coppers? The Fortune Green and West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood teams are holding a public meeting the evening of Wednesday September 21st in the synagogue hall on Dennington Park Rd. Why not go along and say hi (they’re a friendly bunch) and find out the latest on how they’re helping the community. I don’t think you’re expected to stay for two and a half hours!

Boundary review: securing H&K for Labour?

[this article has been updated several times]

The Boundary Commission’s inital proposals to change electoral constituencies were published a day in advance it seemed by political blogger Guido Fawkes. Today they are online on the Commission’s own website.

There are a lot of changes across London, including to our own Hampstead & Kilburn constituency. If you recall, the seat was won by Labour’s Glenda Jackson in 2010 by a whisker from Conservative Chris Philp, and Lib Deb Ed Fordham wasn’t much further behind. H&K was the closest three-way seat in the country.

Inevitably, therefore, any changes to the constituency are likely to affect the next election. There was talk earlier in the year that the seat would lose its Brent ward, and pick up two of the Westminster North wards, which would swing it clearly in favour of the Tories.

However, the commission’s review suggests something entirely different.

We would keep Kilburn and Queens Park in Brent, but add Gospel Oak, Kentish Town and Highgate that were part of Frank Dobson’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency. This means losing some wards. Oddest of all, Fortune Green would become the only Camden ward in the otherwise Barnet-dominated seat of Finchley & Golders Green. Belsize meanwhile becomes part of a new Camden & Regents Park constituency with four north-eastern Westminster wards and the rest of Camden.

Lets remember first of all that these are just proposals. Why are they happening? The government asked the commission to reduce the number of constituencies in England by 29 to 502, and every constituency had to have a population between 72,810 and 80,473. This is a major change to preview boundary reviews. These sought to try and balance the number of voters in each seat, but it was not a legal imperative. At the moment in England, electorate numbers per seat range from 55,000 to 111,000.

The proposals are up for discussion as the Commission’s report explains at great lengths. If you want to attend a public meeting about it, then there are two for our whole region (North-West London) will be held at Brent Town Hall in Wembley on Thursday October 20th and Friday October 21st

What does this mean for the constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn? It’s almost impossible to tell, but it’s definitely not great news for Chris Philp, who is surely looking for a safer seat than one that keeps two Brent wards and loses Belsize.

Gospel Oak – home of Alastair Campbell – seems to be fairly strong Labour; Highgate elected two Labour and one Green councillor last time around – so not immediately obvious that it would be an easy task for a Tory candidate to win over voters there; Kentish Town meanwhile appears resolutely Labour.

In other words, the changes would seem to suit Labour more than any other party at least in H&K. Glenda has announced she won’t run again, so if the proposals are adopted will this be seen as a moderately safe seat for someone to snap up? Fiona Millar – Campbell’s wife and free school advocate Toby Young’s worst nightmare – has said she won’t stand. But we’re almost certainly still two to three years out from the next election.

Indeed, changes elsewhere in the country could leave high profile Labour MPs without a seat and H&K might be one to move to. Most notably Ed Balls and Hilary Benn may have to decide who stays and who goes as their West Yorkshire constituencies are redrawn around them. Closer to home, London MP Tessa Jowell’s seat of Dulwich & West Norwood could be split into three constituencies if the proposals are implemented,

For other parts of Camden, the picture is very different. Frank Dobson’s safe Holborn & St Pancras looks much more marginal as Camden & Regents Park as it picks up Belsize and some Westminster wards and loses Highgate (which returns to the fold of the old Hampstead & Highgate constitutency that Glenda represented for so long before H&K). This might explain this tweet from Labour councillor and former Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson: “The review is a bit bonkers, can’t let this happen”.

And what about Fortune Green? Well, the seat it’s joining changed hands from Labour to Conservative at the last election, and could be fairly close again. In the council votes, the Tory candidates were just ahead of their Labour rivals, but both were well behind the Lib Dems. Oddly, therefore, Fortune Green’s 7,000 voters could still have some impact in the vote, but to be the only ward from Camden in a seat dominated by Barnet does feel strange (if you look at how far south-west Fortune Green ward covers – right down to Maygrove Rd – this feels strange. Don’t expect too many canvassers down there)

I’ve left in the info on how to have your say in the abridged version of the document below, which has details for most West Hampstead Life readers I think.
Abridged Boundary Commission Proposals Sep132011

Tom sinks his teeth into Gourmet Burger Kitchen

After a tough week entombed in an office, it seemed logical to grab a red in La Brocca, then head for Gourmet Burger Kitchen for much-needed Friday night nourishment.

Settling into our seats, our host explained the options and ordering process, which was appreciated, as I have been known to get a little confused over ‘assemble your meal’ type menus. From memory (or what’s left of it!) – I recall three white and three red wines, and we selected a Kiwi Pinot Noir – its medicinal properties well received by these two work-weary diners.

On to the main attractions: I tried a traditional cheese-topped burger, which arrived medium as recommended. A nicely proportioned burger; large, but not so large that greedy people such as myself cannot eat it in the old-fashioned, hands-to-mouth way. The meat had flavour, and worked well with the melted cheddar, as anticipated. Decent chips appeared, along with an impressive bowl of complimentary onion rings, sliced jalepenos, and dips. We noted that vegetarians are well looked-after at GBK, with the veggie burgers’ descriptions sounding as appealing as any others.

Equally pleasing was the side salad (and you know my views on salads!); fresh ingredients, subtle dressing, plenty of ripe avocado, and (hurrah!) semi-dried tomatoes among cherry ones. All in all, there was a quality feel to the grub, which perhaps goes some way to explaining the quite high prices.

Thinking back, the menu was imaginatively designed, with each option appetising due to well-chosen accompaniments to the burgers. Again, this is a challenge for someone like me who wants to eat everything on the menu; but it is welcome to see something basic like a burger given a bit of care and thought, whilst not over-complicating or detracting from the meaty slab in the bun.

Overall then, GBK certainly does enough to draw in hungry locals, and substantial food of this nature is of course very good reason to consume equally substantial amounts of wine. See you there sometime! 

Tom is entertained at The Arches

The Arches was excellent last night; I had the special of cod fillet in tempura batter, with chips, and the whole thing was a demonstration in perfect execution – superb – right down to the quality of the rich tartare sauce. Friend loved his smoked duck salad starter and meatball linguine, and we managed dessert too (I’m full of surprises!)

We happily absorbed a Marlborough Pinot Noir, then a Malbec, and “entertainment” was provided via the adjacent table, from where Keith Floyd’s apparent long-lost brother proceeded to bombard us with a series of ever more ludicrous tales, whilst his partner looked on, nonplussed. Landing planes without lights in total darkness, unlikely prison terms, unlimited wives, and relatives seemingly inventing everything but the wheel. With his penchant for adventure, I was tempted to politely request that he headed for The Kilburn High Road without delay. 

Tom loves La Brocca

Enjoyed a double-dose of La Brocca food last weekend… My favourite moments were the gnocchi; bubbling hot, with nips of basil adding occasional zest to an already delicious dish, and the fennel & endive salad, as ever respectfully dressed.

The best was reserved for last though; a quite delightful apple and caramel crumble, which, due to its generous proportions, I was happy to share just for once.

That’s a thought… how about a giant-sized apple crumble, as a main meal? See, I’m full of good ideas after a bottle and a half of Shiraz…

No sign of first night nerves at Spiga

Last night Tom and I decided it was Our Duty to check out Broadhurst Garden’s newest restaurant, Spiga. It was opening night so I wasn’t really expecting to review it as there were bound to be first night issues and it’s not really fair to give a definitive verdict on such an occasion.

As it was, our meal was verging on faultless. From a friendly welcome from front-of-house manager Marcello through to the cheery goodbyes a couple of hours later, it was refreshingly hard to find much room for improvement. The menu looks appealing, and there’s a set menu tucked away on the back page that has an early bird price option before 7pm. An interesting selection of bread appeared swiftly and we were assured it was made on the premises. While we struggled to choose from the tempting menu we ordered some stop-gap olives, which were not the usual dull overly-marinated selection beloved of so many restaurants, but a nice handful of vibrant green and black juicy monsters.

Tom will, no doubt, post his own review, so I’ll focus on my meal. I had carpaccio di polipo (octopus) as a starter. This was good, although not as good as I’ve had in Italy. I like the slices even thinner and a slightly spikier dressing, although that’s not to say this wasn’t enjoyable. It was served with a few more olives, and a rocket and potato salad. A good start.

Main course was rack of lamb. This was a very generous portion – a rack and a half of perfectly cooked meat. I’ve had lamb with more flavour before, but rarely as well cooked – certainly not in restaurants at this price level. The lamb had a Grissini crust, and this was the only element of the dish I was less keen on – too thick for me and I could see no benefit in it compared to a traditional herbed breadcrumb crust. It’s not on the menu, but main courses are all served with a pea and onion side – sort of like a stew and perhaps cooked in ham stock (vegetarians would want to check)? Sounds odd, tasted great – and again very generous portions.

We’d merrily drunk our way through a bottle of house red – a Sangiovese/Merlot blend that was better than I expected for £12.95. The wine list isn’t that extensive, but does befit the vibe of the restaurant. Those that remember the Green Room will recall the rather glossy boudoir look it had. Spiga has gone for a slightly retro 70s look, but it feels modern and welcoming. No red & white checked trattoria tablecloths to be found. I do think the lighting could be dimmer if it’s looking to create a more romantic atmosphere.

At this point, Sandra Royer, the French wife of one of the two Albanian brothers who own Spiga and are the chefs, came over to say hello and we felt it was only reasonable to reveal who we were. It turned out she was already an avid reader and fan of Tom’s Diner. That boy will go far! She explained that they’d hoped to open a bit sooner but some admin issues, delivery hold-ups, and a minor flood downstairs had pushed them back. It was good to see that we weren’t the only diners that evening, and although some punters clearly knew the owners there were others like us checking the place out (and we all stared intently at each other’s food).

Sandra told us that most of the food is sourced from Italy, so it is clearly going for the authentic angle. I was surprised to hear this was their first restaurant venture, although her husband has been a chef elsewhere – this was certainly no novice in the kitchen.

Tom grappled manfully with a large slice of chocolate torte and we both indulged in a grappa. We were joined by @moyasarner who saw us as she walked past and was immediately offered a basket of bread and a drink.

I was impressed with the service – friendly and professional throughout, even though the junior waitress was clearly a little nervous and made a couple of minor mistakes, which I heard Marcello pick her up on quietly afterwards.

The mark of a good restaurant is consistency. If Spiga can keep delivering the sort of food and experience that we enjoyed then it will do well. In ambience and menu it has kept itself suitably different from very close neighbour Sarracino and while I always found the Green Room to be style over substance, I think Spiga marries the two rather well.

182 Broadhurst Gardens
020 7372 8188
(website still under development!)

If you go, do leave comments below.

Tom roadtests Spiga

I was pleased to have an opportunity to check out Spiga, the new Italian restaurant on Broadhurst Gardens, especially having drunkenly glanced at the menu in advance via Jonathan’s pre-opening photo exclusive, and seen various things I immediately felt an urgent, pressing need to eat.

In terms of “barometers of quality”, bread, olives, and house wine are all good indicators, and we got off to a flying start on all three counts. There was a standard white bread, a rosemary focaccia, and two varieties of “giant crisps” – one pleasingly oily, the other drier, like a poppadom. And big, proud triangles of butter too! The olives were wonderful, in a garlicy oil, the green ones vibrant in colour – luminous almost (v. useful in a power cut).

The house red, a Sangiovese and Merlot blend, went down very easily indeed, earthy soft tannins and not lacking a finish. In hindsight we should have ordered a second bottle, to test its hangover rating. Next time.

To start off the fun I tried the asparagus with poached organic egg and parmesan shavings. Here, I do think a touch of first night nerves were in evidence, with the egg being rather too…errm…soft – the yolk not quite turning from watery to oozing yellowy. However the asparagus was marvellous; giant-size spears and cooked delicately. The dish perhaps needed a pinch of salt, but very enjoyable.

Somehow managing not to overdose on the aforementioned bread, next up was my grilled tuna steak on rocket and mixed peppers, with a sweet and sour balsamic. It’s a combination I’ve had at Base on Baker Street in the past, and was very well executed. The tuna respectfully done; not overcooked, and the balsamic (something I’m not usually mad about) tastefully judged. Just from a personal angle, I’d prefer something a little less sweet, and firmer in texture than the slithery little peppers; perhaps some semi-dried tomatoes? Accompanying my generous tuna was a side of hand-cut chips, and in another pointer to a chef who knows what he’s doing, these were excellent; old-style in size (i.e. not big, fat wedges – not that I dislike those, obviously!) and with a pleasing exterior and a dash of salt. Overall then, a splendid, satisfying main course.

I’m babbling on a bit more than usual (and this is without a drink in hand), but dessert warrants a few details too; a chocolate torte with mascarpone and strawberries – a very generous slice – was delicious. The texture of the pastry was bang-on, with a thick, gooey swamp of dark chocolate on top.

As Jonathan reported, the charming Sandra was all too pleased to chat and tell us a little about their venture, and there was a feeling of combined warmth and confidence in the service, which added to the occasion.

All in all then, a very welcome addition to the local selection of eateries, and I won’t be leaving it too long before heading back there to try the gnocchi… and another slice of the chocolate torte too no doubt.

Welcome, Spiga!

West Hampstead place shaping workshop report

You may recall that at the end of June I was invited to join a “place shaping” workshop organised by Camden council. I wrote it up, but explained that the full report would be available later. That later is now. I received the document this morning. It’s quite long so, although I feel it’s a very fair reflection of at least my workshop (there were two in total), I’m not sure you need to read the whole thing unless you’re really interested.

Therefore, I’ve circled paragraphs that I think capture the main points, and made a few annotations. It’s important to clarify that the purpose of this was not to find solutions, but to try and establish some common purpose that can inform decisions taken by the council. Of course, much of what came up is not really in the council’s purview, and to some extent the least tangible concepts of community are up to residents to demonstrate themselves. Do leave comments and (if they’re appropriate) I can pass them back into the whole process.

West Hampstead Shaping the Future Workshop Final Report

Tom takes tea at Lena’s

I spent an hour chilling out with my brother Bong in Lena’s Café 2 (he’s a campanologist, before you jump to the wrong idea)

I like the bright orange and yellow colour scheme in there, and I’m sure it’s this as well as the remarkable array of salads, and baskets of fruit and vegetables on display, that attracts people passing by and lures them in. I’m also fairly sure the girl who works there thinks I’m a bit of a lunatic (quite reasonable), as several times I’ve marched up and down, closely auditing all the salads and cakes, whilst taking photographs, sometimes from odd, unnecessary angles.

Anyway, despite only purchasing pots of Earl Grey, the manager – who turns out to be the chef too – kindly brought over complimentary baklava. I know they say big hits of sugar aren’t too good for you, but I must say I felt very good indeed after eating mine, and could have happily demolished a couple more. There are lots of nice ideas going on in Lena’s, and I look forward to lunch there soon.

PS: Wikipedia helpfully advises that baklava is… “not to be confused with balaclava”. Thanks for the advice, Wiki! 

Largely unscathed

West Hampstead and surrouding areas escaped Monday night’s widespread rioting and looting relatively unscathed. Despite the rumour mill working overtime when it came to Kilburn the actual damage there was limited to the Vodafone shop on the High Road. This was broken into and stock was stolen but apparently the police were on the scene very quickly.

Photo via Mike Katz

The Guardian reported that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn and it seems that generally whenever there was a crowd gathering, the police dispersed them fairly rapidly. This approach appeared to work well.

As I was tweeting into the early hours of Tuesday, I did feel nervous for the first time as there were reports of groups of young men heading down Adelaide Road towards Swiss Cottage and down Belsize Park in the same direction. I had visions of them coming through West Hampstead to get to Kilburn, or just stopping off in West Hampstead itself.

In the end the impact locally was very limited. The bottom pane of glass at Flower Gallery, the florists by the tube station, had been smashed – which could have happened any night really. By Finchley Road tube, Parkheath estate agents was broken into and their posh iMacs were stolen. I heard today that this wasn’t really a rampage, but was done quite carefully, and I also heard that they chose to install Windows rather than Apple’s operating system, which will surprise the eventual owners.

Photo via @RentalflatsNW6

Anyway, back to the verified facts… the only other casualty in the area was Carphone Warehouse on the corner of Burrard Rd and Finchley Rd, up in the north of West Hampstead. This took a bit of a battering, but that was pretty much it for our part of the world. Real Radio Scotland interviewed a witness.

Photo via @msjlucas

I took a walk through Kilburn on Tuesday morning to check the damage for myself. The Vodafone shop certainly had been hit and there was a police car parked outside and police tape round the entrance. Reports of damage to one of Halfords’ windows were also correct – just a bit late: this had happened a few weeks earlier. Finally, there was some concern when staff were spotted sweeping water and minor debris out of one of the entrances to Poundland, but a quick enquiry revealed that a pipe in the ceiling had burst. Shit happens.

I took another turn through Kilburn mid-afternoon amid rumours that the police presence was increasing and after the Guardian reported that the police were telling shops on the High Road to close. It was a sunny day, and although not as busy as usual, the main drag was still bustly. Some shops were closed, notably TKMaxx, Primark, Phones4U and HSBC. Others, such as Sainsbury’s main store, had strong security on the door. There were no police to be seen. Eventually, I came across four constables heading north on foot patrol and asked one about the instruction to shops. He looked blank and shook his head. He said they weren’t advising shops what to do, although some of course were closing and it was an individual choice.

This was contradicted sometime later by a pub landlord and a member of the public who said he had stood there while a café owner had been advised to close although the timings of these events weren’t clear. Anyway, as the afternoon wore on it became clear that most larger shops were certainly closing earlier than usual. Sainsbury’s obviously had an edict to close its “Local” stores at 6pm, as the shops in Kilburn, West Hampstead and Willesden all shut at the same time.

Despite this, and a distinct tension in the air, West End Lane was busy with people determined to enjoy the good weather, sitting outside the bars and cafés in the evening sun. This wasn’t “normal” though. A police car came hurtling up Lymington Road and swung left on West End Lane. Nothing especially unusual about this, but everyone stopped in their tracks and watched it.

Hopefully, as the atmosphere cools in the capital we won’t have a repeat of Monday night over the next few days.

Tom dives into the menu at Mill Lane Bistro

Popped into the bistro for some well-earned dinner… Starters took a fair while – the place was busy and buzzing as usual – but that gave us a chance to savour a fine Languedoc wine, a Picpoul de Pinet that had a mineral edge to it that somehow reflected the ominous end-of-summer weather (not quite sure how, but it did!)

I kicked off the fun with deep-fried Camembert on a beetroot and walnut salad. Very nice, though the “home made” croutons were absent (not that you’d expect bought-in croutons this side of Garfunkel’s?!). Tried the baked cod next; an elegant-looking dish, perhaps could have come out of the oven a fraction earlier, but the firm texture worked well on the bed of spinach, I thought. Potatoes too – in a sort of caper butter or something (delicious). The bread was satisfyingly chewy, but comically tiny – I would happily have had three baskets of it – with butter too preferably.

I do love this place as it feels like a proper little slice of France right there on Mill Lane. I find it particularly gratifying to be referred to as “monsieur” (I’m easily pleased!).

Grabbed profiteroles for dessert – wonderful! Two tennis ball sized gems with gorgeous ice cream and chocolate sauce; also a glass of Burgundy that had a really intoxicating nose – next time I’m going to tan a whole bottle of that, been meaning to for a while actually.

Nice to see this place such a success; it’s a cheery and uplifting way to start the weekend.

Tom visits The Arches

I had an impromptu dinner at The Arches last night…good food.. I had a Moroccan chick pea soup to start, then baked whole sea bass – very nice. Excellent sautéed potatoes, with that dry, crisp outside. I wondered if they did those with goose fat or something but the waitress just said “deep fried in oil”. Pleasingly large cheesecake to finish, and 4 glasses of Pinot Noir which I was surprised to find later on was Chilean (I thought it was French, but not a Burgundy). Looking back, it did have similarities to that Chilean drop I like to guzzle in Brocca. Checked the bill today, a bit cheeky, the 2nd two glasses were large ones – I was drinking 175s at first – no wonder I have a frigging hangover! 

Tom eats cheese at Mill Lane Bistro

I ate alone – just a cheeseboard – in the bistro last week, and that lovely French girl came straight over to chat and explain the cheeses as if it were a tasting menu. THAT is good service and food.I was a bit miffed they were totally out of all salad items and the cod – even more annoying when the woman next to me turned out to be eating the last of the latter! 

Billy Fury Way officially opens

The path from West End Lane to Lithos Road was named Billy Fury Way last year following a poll. Billy Fury – one of Britain’s original rock & roll stars – recorded regularly at Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens.

On Friday,  the path was officially opened and a new mural was sprayed on at the West End Lane end of the path by graffiti events company Graffiti Life.

As well as being a interesting visual addition to West End Lane, the idea is to spruce up this path and to encourage young people from the area to contribute more artworks along the whole path. I understand that Graffiti Life will be supporting this and working with the local community.

Festivities began yesterday at 1pm with a song-title laden address in St James’ Church hall from Sgt Dave Timms, from West Hampstead’s Safer Neighbourhood Team. Odd? Well, not really – this is in fact an initiative driven by the police. Some of you will remember that one of the imperatives for naming paths such as this one and the Black Path was so the police could identify their location when chasing wrong-uns down these network of alleyways. It’s great to see real community support from our local police team who have similar plans for other parts of the footpath network.

Some 40 or so Billy Fury fans came along – many of whom had travelled from all over the country – including Holly Johnson of 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After a blessing of the site, councillor John Bryant who had driven the renaming exercise cut the ribbon.

ShakeTastic took the opportunity of a crowd just outside to hand out free samples, while the police were spending half their time posing for photos and half stopping the traffic on West End Lane from mowing down ageing rock fans.

The Safer Neighbourhoods Team also worked with Network Rail on the land it owns alongside Billy Fury Way, which included overhanging shrubs, hidden lighting and damaged fencing. Network Rail has undertaken a ‘deep-clean’ of one the most badly affected areas of litter and have re-fenced the area.

Meanwhile, Camden’s Highways Engineering Team plans inspections and repairs to damaged pavement, and street cleaning contractors will clean these paths twice a week. The council will also start patrols to identify any irresponsible dog owners. Dog litter bins, as well as free standing regular litter bins, will be placed halfway along Billy Fury Way.

PC Ruth Marshall, also from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: “We want people to feel safe using Billy Fury Way. By keeping the area maintained, it will encourage the public to use it,” adding that the artwork was a “fitting tribute” to Billy Fury.

There are more plans for more murals to celebrate the area’s musical heritage. Lets hope that this one sets a good precedent for the paths.

Tom’s baffled by La Smorfia

Enjoyed the food, but there were minus points which, given the stiff competition, confuse me. The pizza was very good; really flavoursome and satisfying. One of the ingredients – anchovy – was very sparse. Admittedly this pizza (Trappola) had quite a few toppings, but the anchovy is obviously important. Still, nice food.

Now here’s my first gripe; you know my thoughts on side salads – they should not be a token gesture. I ordered a mixed salad, and there was nothing awful about it, basically it felt like some assorted leaves from a supermarket packet. They chose to lob in a few olives, pretty cheap ones. Now, I like those, I buy them, but if you’re going to add olives, use proper marinated ones or something. Further, the tomato slices were completely flavourless and out of the fridge. If you go to a restaurant, surely you want it to be as good as, or better than, what you’d do at home? And not just ‘good’, but interesting. I fail to understand how things like this are given such lack of thought. I am fussy, but this is West Hampstead – the competition is out there and I would guess that other locals would be similarly interested in detail.

Strada have done great side salads on most occasions, and you also get a salt mill with either rock or sea salt – again makes a difference. I had no salt at all on my table.

Nice big glass of pleasing house wine. Good but somewhat blank-faced service – certainly didn’t strike me as “ooh – new customer – let’s pull the stops out” – though a free little bruschetta bite was appreciated.

No sweet menu forthcoming so I went home.

187-199 West End Lane report

You’ll recall that on July 2nd there was a “Community Planning Day” to discuss the plans for the site adjacent to the tube lines to the west of West End Lane currently being used by the car wash, limo company, motorbike dealers and retail services such as Peppercorns and Café Bon.

The report back was apparently very much a presentation rather than a second opportunity to discuss the plans. The distributed “newsletter” sketched out a very rough plan for the site, but this is extremely preliminary.

Click for full-size version*

The document included a list of “key themes”. These are based on the public’s contributions to the planning day. They are broadly ideas most people would agree with, but note that the newsletter doesn’t say that these ideas will be implemented, it is merely a synthesis of comments.

Residents will probably hope both that the developers and architects will do more than just bear these comments in mind, and that the council will take them very seriously when assessing the plans – especially in light of the place shaping conversations. Questions were apparently raised in the report back session about the need for public service provision in light of an increase in population, notably in schools and medical services.

The key points so far:

  • Mixed use – preliminary proposal is for a public square (with farmers market potential) bordering West End Lane and retail units near the front of the site. The development will be residential-led, however;
  • Affordable housing should be integrated into the plans;
  • Building height is very likely will increase towards the back of the site as the land slopes down;
  • Green spaces should be integral to the plans and existing trees retained;
  • New parking should be kept to a minimum.

What next?

“The Ballymore and Network Rail Team [the site’s co-owners] now plan to meet with London Borough of Camden’s planning officers and Councillors in the coming weeks or so to discuss the community feedback and work with local stakeholders to form a steering group which we intend to work with during the remainder of the consultation”

I will of course continue to keep you all up-to-date with any developments and if I can get a full PDF of the newsletter, I’ll add the link here.

Place shaping meeting overview

Wednesday’s Place Shaping meeting was very hands-on, so I wasnt able to take copious notes. There’ll be a full report produced by the independent facilitators, which naturally I’ll let you all know about. [update 18/8/11: that can now be found here]

Perhaps the most revealing moment came when the various sub-groups we’d been assigned to came together to share their visual (read “simple”) vision for West Hampstead. Three of the four groups had identical visions. They comprised green spaces, transportation, a vibrant shopping / café culture, and a coherent community. Idealistic? Perhaps a little – and of course this masked nuances – but I was pleasantly surprised at the uniformity of our basic desires for the area.

One hopes that the council (three of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green councillors were present) take note even of just this simple exercise when it comes to approving development plans for spaces coming up. Perhaps pressuring the 187-199 West End Lane developers to give the existing retailers on that space not just first option on new retail units, but first option at a reasonable rent. Perhaps suggesting that when the Travis Perkins site is sold off (that’s all council-owned property), any retail frontage is split into smaller units that would encourage independent traders rather than kept as a large unit that only a chain shop could operate. Just perhaps.

Anyway, despite going to the meeting with a fair degree of cynicism, I left marginally more optimistic. I shall be interested to see whether the synthesis of the discussion reflects my own recollection of how the evening panned out. In the meantime, do please read my original blog on it and add your comments below – I shall try and ensure that they get fed back into the process at some stage.

187-199 West End Lane: what happens next

Some of you may be aware that the triangle of land west of West End Lane between the underground and overground lines is jointly owned by Network Rail and a company called Ballymore Group. This is where Mr Pink’s car wash, the motorbike shop and of course the parade of shops that includes Café Bon, Rock Men’s Salon, Peppercorns and Michael Leonard Estates is. This land has been earmarked for development – most likely for new homes but with some mixed use. John Thompson & Partners are the architects.

If you’re interested in finding out more and perhaps more importantly having some input into the plans then do go along to Emmanuel School on Saturday to find out more. There’ll be a follow-up meeting on July 13th in the evening to report back. Click the images below for larger versions.

Lend me your ears: Shaping West Hampstead’s future

Tonight I’m off to a Camden meeting about the future of West Hampstead no less. Heavens. Perhaps more alarming is that I’m supposed to be representing a different slice of the West Hampstead population from those people who normally get invited to meetings like this. Yep, I’m there on behalf of you lot – the clued-up, keyed-in, mobile-addicted, latte-sipping computer jockeys who make up a sizeable chunk (did someone say majority?) of the local area. Christ, if I was any more down wiv da kidz i’d still be in short trousers.*

We’re going to discuss what we’d like West Hampstead to be like – there’ll be a focus on the West End Lane strip and on the area around the stations (the “interchange” as it’s known) in particular. I’m after your ideas. I’m less interested in the old chestnuts of “I’d like a butcher” and “Why so many hairdressers?” and “If another estate agent moves in I’m going to go all Michael Douglas in Falling Down“.

Here’s the sort of stuff that’s in scope: “enhancing streets and open spaces, improving the shopping offer on our high streets, delivering better homes for people, investing in our community spaces or securing local jobs and training opportunities for local people.” So, yes, that includes the shopping, but remember the council can’t control directly who moves into individual units and, as I explained here, even the issue of change-of-use permission is a thorny one. Other topics are also welcome.

This is all in the context that West Hampstead is going to grow. The timescale for growth is far from clear, but aside from the students moving in when the Blackburn Road development is finished, we should expect 1,000 new homes over the next 10-15 years. So, managing sustainable growth is very important

Please have a think about the topics listed below. Then choose 1-3 of them and leave a comment below with one idea/thought/suggestion for each of your chosen three. Be creative by all means, but also vaguely realistic. Think about the sort of place you’d like West Hampstead to be.

  • Mix of employment spaces
  • New business
  • Variety of shops
  • Look and feel of town centre
  • The interchange
  • Wider links & integration with neighbouring areas
  • Transportation
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Architecture & design
  • Mixed-use development
  • Coordinated development
  • Council-owned sites
  • Open spaces
  • Education, play and young people
  • Cultural services and facilities
  • Voluntary and community sector
  • Comunity safety

Thank you very much. I will of course report back on the meeting.

*You will never catch me wearing short trousers

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

The rain and perhaps Andy Murray on Centre Court meant a slightly below-par turnout for last Monday’s West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action Group meeting. On the plus side, when Cllr Keith Moffitt asked whether anyone was attending because they’d read about it on Twitter a few hands actually went up.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Camden council’s Principal placeshaping officer, Kate Goodman. Kate talked about the Community Investment Programme, which is Camden’s scheme to turn physical assets into cash – i.e., to sell council-owned land and buildings. The focus is obviously on those facilities that are underused or with very high runningh costs. Sixty sites have been identified across the borough, but only two are in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. 156 West End Lane is the large red brick building that includes the District Housing office and Travis Perkins. It has been identified as a possible site for disposal, with housing units the likely end use, although there will be a push to at least retain a ground floor retail presence. The second site is Liddell Road, the light industrial estate between Maygrove Rd and the trainline, which has been mooted as a possible site for the new primary school being discussed for this part of London. An initial report was submitted to the council in December 2010 and the second report will be in July this year.

During the Q&A the audience was reminded – although clearly some weren’t aware at all – that West Hampstead has been identified as an area for intensification in the London plan. The car park between Homebase and Sainsburys has been earmarked as an ideal site for more housing, including affordable housing. A couple of people accepted that even if there was not a lot we as residents could do about some of the development plans, it was important to be better informed about them. Obviously the council can’t track all potential private developments, but there was an agreement to provide a clearer map overview of public plans at least for the next session.

There was also some grumbling that the Thameslink station wasn’t delivering on its promises in terms of an attractive eco-friendly building. It’s true that for “cost reasons”, some of the specifications for the building were changed by Network Rail after the consultation. Cllr Keith Moffitt pointed out that although Network Rail had conducted a very good consultation “A good consultation doesn’t equal a great outcome”. With regard to some of the bigger projects, and the more general intensification, he also pointed out that these projects could take years to amount to anything, especially in today’s constrained funding environment.

West Hampstead is one of Camden’s nine “place shaping” areas, and thus has a Place Plan, which aims to get developers to fit in with the local area. I’m going to a meeting next week about this so will have more details about that then. In the meantime, you can read much more about this initiative here.

The next item on the agenda was the ever-popular topic of retail. Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill has been investing time on this issue, and ran through some of the changes on West End Lane since the last meeting, which blog readers will be familiar with and mostly boil down to more cafés/hairdressers/kebab shops.

She told us that Caffè Nero had to do battle with Costa for the Atlanta site that the blue coffee chain won. She suggested that delis were closing as a direct result of Tesco, although I find this hard to believe in all cases, as the stock is usually very different. More plausible to me is a relative fall in customers’ disposable income through inflation and economic uncertainty, so less willingness to buy high-end/high-price gourmet items, exacerbated perhaps by the convenience of supermarkets.

Gillian explained why cafés such as Nero no longer needed change-of-use permission to turn a shop into a café. Elsewhere in the country, it has been successfully argued in court that cafés where no food is cooked are essentially shops. You can argue the blatant nonsense of this all you want – it’s now been established in case law and is therefore difficult to overturn. In trying to spin a positive story, Gillian said that at least there was never an empty shop on West End Lane, which is more true since Ladudu tool over the long empty Glo site.

The conversation then turned to Mill Lane. While West End Lane homogenises, Mill Lane seems to be deteriorating as shops such as the Kitchen Stores close, and the general state of many other units is far from appealing.

Following the success of the Christmas market, Gillian is now thinking of setting up an Autumn market as well as repeating the Christmas edition, but needs helpers.

After this ‘state of the union’ address, the questions flowed. There were complaints about rents with one man saying it was now £45,000 for a shop on West End Lane – equivalent to Brent Cross (he said). There were also comments about parking (better parking would encourage more shoppers), delivery vehicles (WHAT is apparently looking into this), lobbying central government for a separate coffee shop classification, and restricting rent rises for smaller shops. Cllr Flick Rea pointed out that central governments of all hues tended to see development as inherently a good thing, and that offering objectors the right to appeal decisions might help (although at a much bigger scale you could imagine this causing some projects to never get off the ground). She also pointed out that the restaurant category A3 had in fact been split into two sub-categories, but it hadn’t made any difference.

The main outcome of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be that if we could find a way to increase footfall in Mill Lane, then that would be a Good Thing. I’ve suggested separately that having some sort of banner on the railings outside Emmanuel School pointing people to the shops further down might help, as might a rebranding of the retail section of the street focusing on its quirky more artisan shops. Finally, if an organization such as Empty Shops could find ways to tackle the empty or underused shops, that might breathe some life into it. There was much excitement as before about the idea of a regular market, but finding space for it is proving tough – traders want a hard tarmac surface for starters.

Then we moved on to the libraries – I think I’ve linked to enough stories about this that most of you should know what’s going on. In a nutshell, West Hampstead library won’t close but will see its hours cut – as will all other libraries. Camden will, however, cease provision of library services at Belsize, Hampstead and Chalk Farm libraries and their future remains uncertain.

Finally, there was a brief presentation of Camden’s newest online venture We Are Camden. This externally funded online service is being billed as a way to carry on the sorts of conversations that residents have at these local meetings. It’s in its infancy and during the first phase the idea is that it’s a way for Camden to talk to residents. Phase 2, which sounds much more valuable, will enable groups such as residents associations to set up their own presence.

What’s new on the Overground?

Are you a regular Overground user? If so, then this guest post by Ed Fordham is for you. Ed sits on the London Overground Passenger Board – the user group that discusses issues relating to the Overground network and in particular the North London Line:

“Being a frequent user of one part of the line, I tend to confine myself to taking a close interest in the stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak.  There are other user groups for the other bits (Barking-Gospel Oak, West London etc), but the six rail stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak can be a bit left out. So I thought I would report back on what had occurred at the last meeting on 15th June – which felt exceptionally positive.

Overall the Overground network achieved 95% punctuality over the past 12 months, making it one of the most punctual services in the UK. This is based on arrival time at the end destination, rather than at intermediate stations – and given some of the routes are so long and have so many stations, there are variations. The North London Line section of the network was only 92%, and steps are being taken to try and tighten up on that.

It is expected that this service – going through residential areas will be heavily used during the Olympics, so there will be 70 additional staff and some additional services for parts of the line. An Olympic and Paralympic timetable will be out in the next week or so.

Phase 3 refurbishments
As you may have seen over the last 18 months, there havebeen a host of small scale station improvements ranging from new signs and a general paint job to the more comprehensive redecoration at Hampstead Heath station (this was part of the Art on the Overground project).

There is now a chance to have a more substantive conversation about issues and improvements in the medium and longer term and it would be good to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Issues that have been mentioned include:

  • Better recycling facilities generally, especially for free early morning papers (on trains as well as platforms?)
  • Additional shelters or canopies at Brondesbury station
  • A lift at Hampstead Heath station – especially given access to the hospital
  • Taking down the excessive anti-vandalism measures at Finchley Road and Frognal
  • A cashpoint to be installed at Brondesbury Park station

Getting the community involved
One specific initiative has been to get the community working with London Overground to introduce flower boxes and flower beds at other stations and it strikes me that this would be very possible at Kensal Rise, West Hampstead and Hampstead Heath stations in particular. If any local residents, amenity groups or traders would like to get involved with this please do get in touch and I can help facilitate the conversation asap. Homerton Station has been very successful at this.”

Thanks Ed! Ed sends out an e-mail update every 2–3 months or so on these issues, so any local residents, users or traders on or near the Overground Line should contact him on . He tends to concentrate on the six stations between Kensal Rise and Hampstead Heath.

Useful links
LOROL – London Overground Rail Operations Ltd
TFL and Overground
Passenger Focus

Tots and Toast at LoveFood

Alicia, a local mum, is organising a “Tots and Toast” social morning for local parents and carers with tots in tow at LoveFood on Monday mornings. The aim is to provide parents with a relaxed, grown-up but child friendly place to relax and have a proper coffee.

There’ll be an area for parents to sit and chat, and to make toast for themselves and their kids. The café is throwing in the toast and condiments for free and Alicia’s working on a monthly door prize and regular guest speakers.

For more information on the event, suggestions for speakers or topics, or if you want to volunteer as a speaker, then please contact Alicia at .

The mornings will start on Monday 20th June and run from 9:30 to 11am. All parents and carers welcome.

Do WHAT now?

If you’re interested in all things West Hampstead – and lets face it, if you’re not then you may be on the wrong blog – perhaps you should consider joining WHAT. What? Yes, WHAT. The jokes are almost endless*

WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenities and Transport and has been going for more than 30 years as a non-political community group that cares about local issues and ensures residents have a voice in local affairs through lobbying, meetings etc. As far as I know, it’s the most prominent and wide-reaching of the various local community groups. Like all such organisations, it does of course need fresh blood – not least to ensure that it continues to reflect the local population’s thoughts and ideas.

So, if you want to get involved and join WHAT, then you can find a membership form right here.

*that’s the end of the jokes

West Hampstead Transition Town kicks off

On Monday evening, the Transition Town West Hampstead initiative kicked off. Sadly I couldn’t make, it but guest reporter Suzie was on hand to tell us more:

It was a good turn out for the inaugural West Hampstead TT meeting. Around 30 people gathered at St James’ Church to find out what the Transition Town movement was all about.

George Latham and nettle pesto canapés

Having been welcomed with some homemade and locally foraged nettle pesto (quite yummy, as it happens!) and elderflower cordial, West Hamsptead resident David Abrahams kicked off proceedings. He had been impressed, he said, by what our neighbours at Transition Belsize and Transition Kensal 2 Kilburn had achieved over a short period of time, and wanted to replicate this in West Hampstead.

David Abrahams

The evening started with A Farm for the Future, a film that tells the story of wildlife filmmaker, Rebecca Hoskin, who returned to Devon to run her family farm. She explains how heavily modern farming relies on oil – from the diesel needed to run the planting and harvesting machinery, to the oil-based fungicides, pesticides and insecticides used in growing the crops. As she puts it: “All food production is dripping in oil”.

The film went on to explain that with world oil reserves diminishing, energy prices on the rise, and a farming community in decline (there are only 150,000 farmers left whereas there used to be 10 times as many), the UK – a net importer of food – is in a precarious position to feed its own growing population.

So what’s the answer? The core concept of the Transition Town movement is building local resilience to a future world without oil, and finding “local solutions to global problems”. It aims to do this by sharing knowledge within local communities; by re-learning lost skills, such as foraging for food (apparently Hampstead Heath is a rich resource!) and sewing; and developing new ones, such as creating cycle groups and learning how to make your home more energy efficient.

Camden’s former ‘eco champion’ Alexis Rowell talking to the group

It’s also about teaching and inspiring people, and helping them feel safe and happy by encouraging residents to get to know their neighbours and breaking down feelings of isolation. Did you know that 48% of Camden residents live alone?

George Latham, from the Kensal 2 Kilburn group, shared a few examples of what can be achieved. He told us how it had set up a community allotment on a Brent Partnership housing estate (which has since doubled in size), and created “abundance groups” – volunteers that collect fruit from local residents’ gardens that would otherwise have been wasted. In fact, last year a staggering two tonnes of fruit went to local schools! It also shared other skills such as crocheting, apple pressing, and jam, chutney and bread making. A big success was their local harvest festival, which drew 200 people and ended up with everyone sitting next to their neighbours and sharing a ‘festival stew’.

Transition West Hampstead can be anything we want it to be and it’s up to Transition members to follow their passion, whether it be energy, sustainable transport and food production, or wellbeing and the creative arts. Last night the enthusiasm was palpable and there was a sense of momentum, but the next step is ours. The key thing is that it’s enjoyable. Remember: “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable!

If you’d like to find out more about Transition West Hampstead, or would like to get involved, please email: . Or read more about the wider transition network.

Private Space holds private style party for locals

On Thursday evening, 30 West Hampstead fashionistas descended on The Private Space on Mill Lane for Whampstyle – an evening of fashion, food and free wine!

After the all-important mingling and sampling of some delicious food provided by West End Lane’s newest restaurant Ladudu, we gathered round to hear stylist Zahide Ozkardesler discuss this season’s trends (clashing colours seemed to feature), accessorising (it’s all about belts), and understanding your colours (I confess I got a bit lost here).

Then Christian Croce, owner of The Private Space, gave some top simple hair tips for accentuating your look and a couple of brave volunteers were draped in clothes from the rack and quickly recoiffed before our very eyes.

There was a bit more mingling and we all polished off Bake-a-boo‘s colour-coordinated cupcakes before everyone melted off into the night. It was great to see some familiar faces and plenty of new arrivals both to the area and to whampevents. Big thanks also to The Social Metre

The next major event is the Secret BBQ on June 26th. It’s been filling up steadily so don’t leave it too late to put your name down.

WHAT survey

Some of you will and some of you won’t have heard of WHAT. WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenities & Transport. It’s a campaign group that’s been around a long time and has been very active in issues such as the West Hampstead interchange project that was a credible proposal some years ago.

Anyhoo…, it’s carrying out a short survey but doesn’t have such good access to the younger population in the area. Which is where I come in.

It’s looking for people who are 25–40 and who live (this bit’s important) in either the West Hampstead or Fortune Green wards. Here’s a map if you’re not sure which ward you live in.

It’s a survey about local community facilities – doesn’t matter whether you use them or not, they’re interested in everyone’s views, and also what you might use if it was available. It will take about 10–15 minutes to fill in. There’s a Word doc. and an Excel sheet to complete, which I can mail you.

If you’d like to participate, please drop me a mail (link is top right) or DM me on Twitter with your e-mail address. WHAT is ideally looking for a mix of longer-standing and recently arrived residents, so let me know how long you’ve lived here too, please. I’ll mail out the questionnaires over the next day or two.

Thank you very much

Will Ladudu do do it?

Vietnamese café/restaurant Ladudu opened today on West End Lane. I popped in at lunchtime to see what was on offer and was given a very friendly greeting. As some readers might know, it has a problem with gas for cooking – namely there wasn’t any being piped in. Previous occupant Glo clearly wasn’t that fussed about using hobs.

Anyway, it’s going to be mid-late May before chef Teresa is cooking on gas according to her front-of-house partner Tristan. Until then, Ladudu is serving from its appetisers menu – 10 “tasty nibbles” including spring rolls, salads and betel beef rolls. I tried a couple of things, both were good although I think it’s probably fair to give a place a few days to settle in before really judging the food! Mains, once they come online after the gas is installed, are all under £8. Starters all under £5.50.

The decor is attractive with thick wooden tables and some comfy chairs in a lounge area. There are some larger sharing tables too, but overall it has a clean modern yet warm feel.

For the moment, Ladudu is open 7am to 6pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm weekends. It will close at 11pm once it’s fully operational. I understand from Tristan that they fancy their chances against Starbucks and Costa for the commuter coffee business. That may be a tall (skinny) order, given how wedded people can get to their coffee, but why not give it a try and support a local business run by people who actually live here.

No doubt we’ll be hearing more about it over the coming weeks, but for now, Good Luck.

How Gung-Ho were we about long-standing local Chinese?

For the first #whampreview of 2011 we decided to check out West Hampstead’s Gung-Ho. Despite having been in the area as long as most locals can remember, a surprising number of people had never heard of it.

Tucked up the forgotten bit of West End Lane, just before it joins the Finchley Road, Gung-Ho claims to serve Szechuan food although to the untrained eye, it’s a reasonably standard menu. There is also a “fusion” section, which mercifully means other south-east Asian dishes and not some awful attempt to marry completely different cuisines.

We were shown through to a table at the back replete with the obligatory lazy Susan. I rather like Gung-Ho’s decor. It’s nicely lit, clean and although quite a large place, there are enough partitions that you never feel like you’re in a large place.

The challenge of reviewing places with extensive menus is that you can only ever review a small selection of what’s on offer. We ordered a wide range of starters having not done much damage to the two small bowls of pickled cabbage that we got as soon as we arrived. Har gau and beef dumplings were hits, Nicky said the tempura was light, while Chris surprised himself, “I consider myself a carnivore, but that tofu was good”. We also had squid two ways and pretty quickly demolished the lot .

Main courses came promptly – portions are not overwhelming but the manager recommended we only needed four portions of rice between the eight of us. The Malaysian rendang (from the fusion menu) was tasty but Hazel and I agreed it lacked the depth of flavour of the best rendangs. Mark and Debbie said they were “big fans” of the prawn curry, while Nicky heaped praise on the seabass. SJ liked her sea-salt chicken. There was consistent support for the lamb in honey, which never seemed to move far from Simon‘s reach. Perhaps the only disappointing dish was the “uninspiring” mixed vegetables.

Amid some scepticism, we ordered three of the sweet bean paste pancakes, which I really like (but have had before there, so it wasn’t quite such a shot in the dark). Together with three bottles of white wine, the bill came to £25 each including service. Talking of service, I rather like the waiters at Gung-Ho. They are very friendly and not too pushy. We were a bit tucked out of the way, so if we actually wanted something we were reliant on them coming to check, but I think our service mark is on the low side compared to other reviews.

So, overall, Gung-Ho probably won’t blow your mind or your palate, but for reliable friendly Chinese food in a nice setting it’s the best local offering. It also does take-out.

Food 6.9
Service 7.1
Value 8.1
Overall 7.6
Good for: tofu sceptics
Bad for: i’ve got nothing
328-332 West End Lane
West Hampstead
T: 020 7794 1444

Gung-Ho on Urbanspoon

Sainsbury’s Local gets West Hampstead over excited

As everyone knows, because the sign is so brightly lit that aircraft are now using it as a navigation device, a new Sainsbury’s Local opened on West End Lane on Friday where Best One used to be.

It’s fair to say that this caused a fair amount of Twitter traffic. The story unfolds below

Congratulations to Richard, who took the first photo from inside the store

[let me know if you like this format of showing tweets/telling stories]

Library cuts – is West Hampstead immune?

So what exactly is going on with local libraries? Amid accusations that closures have been pre-determined, a consulation process that has triggered some fierce criticism, and the very raison d’être of libraries evolving, I thought it was time to try and make sense of it all.

First the facts. Camden, like every other council in the country, is facing a shortfall in the funding it receives from central government of £80-£100 million over the next four years. The final number is unclear because the budget gap for the fourth year of these restrictions has yet to be calculcated. Council tax accounts for less than 10% of Camden’s spending, so even substantive rises there would make little difference overall.

Like every borough, there are services that Camden has to provide (statutory requirements) such as transport for adults to social care services, schooling etc. Everything else is discretionary and therefore could be cut. Discussion rages about where the balance should fall between cuts to frontline services and further efficiency savings at Town Hall.

Camden’s contentious budget meeting last week set the level of cuts for each department. It has been decided that £2 million of the £8m library budget needs to be cut. (The Culture department’s total budget is £14 million). At 25%, libraries are one of the more heavily affected services although almost no frontline discretionary services remain unaffected as we have seen with the proposed closure of children’s centres such as the one on Acol Road and the Netherwood centre for Alzheimer’s patients. 

One criticism, levelled by West Hampstead Lib Dem councillor Keith Moffitt among others, is that the £2m figure seems to be set in stone already even before deciding how it might be cut.

Some savings have already been made. Camden’s cabinet member for Culture, Cllr Tulip Siddiq explained to me that she has already saved £400,000 in back-office efficiencies, but that still leaves a £1.6m shortfall over the four years. However, and much to her displeasure, it is front-loaded, so that £1.2m has to be found next year (2012/13).

Rumours circulated early on that Camden’s officers (the term used for what is effectively the borough’s civil service) had a plan in their back pocket to slash the library provision in one fell swoop, reducing the service from 13 libraries to just four “super-libraries”. Cllr Siddiq told me she rejected this out of hand, although it is hard to see how it would ever have gone through anyway given the level of outcry it would have triggered. Although some level of library provision is statutory, the definition is open to enormous interpretation.

Cllr Siddiq hopes we don’t have to close libraries

Are closures inevitable? And how safe is West Hampstead library? The consultation document – especially the online version – was roundly criticised for forcing people to agree with some form of closures or major reductions in service before other options were discussed. Of course, where library passions run high this hasn’t stopped community groups getting together to discuss taking over the running of a couple of libraries. Cllr Siddiq wouldn’t say which libraries, but it’s fair to assume that such an initiative would be feasible only with the smaller libraries.

Taking over libraries – or a “community asset transfer” to use the big society parlance – could work in a number of ways. A group could be granted a long lease, say in excess of 20 years, to run the library and would take responsbility for all aspects of it. Or a shorter lease could be considered whereby Camden would retain a little more control, perhaps even providing one librarian to work alongside the volunteers, but the major running costs would come off the balance sheet without it being considered a closure.

West Hampstead, having recieved investment relatively recently would be an unlikley candidate for closure and is large enough to be daunting for a community takeover. However, it is probably wise to take nothing for granted – West Hampstead is the most expensive library in the borough in terms of cost-per-user.

The consultation process, which 3,000 people have so far engaged with, has thrown up all sorts of other ideas both for cutting costs and generating income across the board and Camden is also working on its own ideas. Some, such as charging for WiFi access, seem to go both against the grain of why libraries are there in the first place as well as surely offering a mere drop in the ocean in terms of extra revenue. Higher library fines may be marginally more popular, but for serious money-spinning ideas then ideas such as licencing coffee shops within libraries, or perhaps a post office would have a greater impact. There’s even talk of turning some of the Swiss Cottage library space into an art gallery – with at least one artist offering to pay handsomely (and rather philanthropically) for the privelige of hanging work there.

Cutting hours at individual libraries is one option. The more costly the library is to run the bigger the absolute savings this generates. There is always a risk that reducing hours becomes a downward spiral as fewer and fewer people use the service, but at some of the mid-sized libraries it’s hard to imagine that shaving some of the quietest hours off would make much difference to users.

This really leads to the bigger question of what exactly libraries are for today. Are they book lending services, are they places for quiet(ish) study, are they a depot for information about local services, or do they offer a place for people otherwise stuck at home – young parents, the less mobile – to have some access to the outside world? The answer of course is that they are all of these things – but different libraries serve different needs.

In thinking about issues such as opening hours, Camden has to make some judgement calls on priorities. Swiss Cottage library, for example, seems to be heavily used by schoolkids and ensuring it’s open for them after school hours might be deemed more important than it being open early for young parents. These are tough choices and will almost certainly vary across the library network, but some smart thinking here could help get close to the savings required while keeping the negative impact as low as possible.

The notion of libraries as community spaces rather than just book depositories could also be taken a step further. This might mean making the library a shared services space. Imagine, for example, if West Hampstead library hosted a drop-in housing clinic at certain times of the week – especially now the housing office on West End Lane is closing. Such cross-departmental coordination is needed during these difficult times, and one hopes that council officers and cabinet members are not too caught up in their own departmental problems to peer over the fence to see what benefits could come from collaboration.

Consultation officially closes on April 4th. The findings should be made public in May and decisions ratified at the council meeting in June.

Iverson Road pavement works

You’ll have noticed that Network Rail’s works on Iverson Road are progressing well. What you may not have yet realised is quite how big an impact the pavement widening is going to have.

I’d seen the plans and noticed the extra space, but if you walk a few yards along and peer over the fence you can see just how wide it will be. Everything right up to the far wall will be pavement. It’s going to be 3-4 times as wide again as the existing pavement. This picture taken from up against the current fence line doesn’t really do it justice.

This whole space – which will be owned by Network Rail – will (at least outside of rush hour) become a rather pleasant open area, almost like a mini town square. It should vastly improve the whole environment at the junction (good news for Ladudu opening across the road on West End Lane).

It is also now possible to see just how big the new cut corner is going to be – again hard to capture on camera, but worth noticing next time you walk past from the tube direction. All the space you see will be pavement. This section is owned by Camden, but hopefully the whole unified area can be used for hosting small events (Christmas market, carol singing, community stalls), and preferably not as a hangout for chuggers.

This should be a very positive change to West Hampstead’s streetscape as well as improving the pedestrian flows between the stations. Hurrah.

Read more on the various roadworks on West End Lane.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Forum report

Monday night saw the latest area forum for the combined wards of West Hampstead and Fortune Green. Maygrove Road resident Matt went along to find out more:
About 75 people braved a chilly February evening to attend this month’s area forum. Through some geographical anomaly Maygrove Road counts as Fortune Green, so this was a good opportunity for me to meet my councillors and find a little about what’s going on in the local area.
Keith Moffitt introduced five of the six councillors for the two wards (Gillian Risso-Gill is on holiday in Antarctica!) before handing the floor to Theo Blackwell, council cabinet member for resources (i.e., Finance), for the first 45 minutes or so.
Theo’s brief cannot be an easy one in the current climate. His role was to outline where and how Camden would need to cut services in order to balance the books. Whilst the figures are sobering, Theo was keen to point out Camden had historically provided “over and above” what is required by law. This will hopefully mean that, even after the cuts, we get more from our council than some of our neighbours.
Theo first explained where the money comes from. I was surprised to learn only 11% of Camden’s income comes from council tax, with a massive 70% coming from central government in one form or another. It’s this central funding that’s being heavily cut in the coming years. Over three years there is a budget gap of £80-100 million. To put that in perspective, this could be plugged by a rise in council tax – a rise of 35%.
This is obviously not going to happen, so the alternative is spending cuts. Camden thinks efficiency savings can cover about half of the deficit. This includes around 1,000 council jobs, which puts a bit more of a human face on the word ‘efficiency’. A few more pennies can be raised by increased fees. Motorists have already been bled pretty dry, but things such as planning applications for large houses or removal of washing machines will start to cost a little more.
It’s at this point when the cuts will really start to bite, and this was where the attendees started to make their voices heard. There was some good debate on the balance between preventative and reactive services: cut £10,000 on home visits to the elderly and you might spend £20,000 on extra A&E admissions.
The take home point was that Camden is consulting on the spending cuts and it’s important to contribute to the debate. The older age demographic at the meeting made me wonder if younger adults will lose out in this debate. Age Concern reps spoke several times at the meeting and are clearly well-organised at getting their points across. Do the 20- and 30-somethings have anything similar? Anyway, if you have some views, get on the website.
The £80-100m is just the spending gap for Camden’s operating costs. Capital spending is a bit of a car crash too. Camden lost out to the tune of £200m with the scrapping of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding for new schools projects. Whilst Camden owns about £3.4bn of property, most of this is housing stock. The Council is reviewing how some property assets can be utilised to release funds for new capital schemes.
We then heard a little about what Keith Moffitt calls the ‘jigsaw’. This is a range of building and infrastructure projects around Mill Lane and Emmanuel School. Much of this was over my head (coming from the other side of the ward), but what was clear is just how complicated these interconnected projects are. Problems with one affect all the others, so it’s important that our councillors take an overview of the whole area, particularly as it seems that a different council officer is responsible for each individual project.
Next, a planning officer gave a presentation on the Blackburn Road development. In short, nine floors, residential accommodation for 347 students (University of Westminster), and six business units (probably workshops). Much was made of the safeguards for the area (such as no car-parking for the students), but many were worried about the impact of construction works on an already congested road that is a vital thoroughfare for pedestrians down to the O2. The developer is paying c£500,000 in “Section 106 monies” (which will be spent by the council on offsetting the impact of the development), but the student accommodation will bring in nothing in council tax revenue. However, perhaps it will provide a useful shot in the arm to the shops on West End Lane. As long as the students don’t overcrowd the Lower Ground Bar…
Flick Rea then talked about the library consultation, which had launched earlier in the day. Camden is looking for £2 million in savings, which means either closing libraries, or reducing opening hours across the board by up to 50%. Flick felt the consultation was unimaginative and did not even consider things such as library sharing across boroughs (Kilburn library for example sits on the boundary of Camden, Brent and Westminster boroughs). There was widespread horror that the council had paid a private contractor £25,000 to draw up a simple consultation document. I’d have done it myself for £10k!
Finally we heard from the chair of Friends of Fortune Green. Since the Sager building (think Tesco Express and Gym Group) went up, the residents have got together to make sure their voice is heard, but also to improve their local community. Some modest National Lottery grants, together with some free labour from Community Payback has meant that lots of painting and planting has been happening on the green. They are currently looking at improving the play areas to keep things interesting for the over-5s. Bravo.
Whether the council listens to us on all the current consultations remains to be seen. But it is at least consulting on lots of things at the moment. Please do make your views known, if only so that we can have a good moan on Twitter if we’re all ignored!

What will happen in 2011?

Happy New Year!

So here we are in 2011, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But what does the next 12 months hold in store? Rather than speculate wildly I thought I’d ask my Twitter followers to speculate wildly instead. And they didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what some of you think will happen this year. You’re a sardonic bunch aren’t you (it’s why I love you).

Unsurprisingly, the tubes and trains were popular topics.

@RandomCarlos Jubilee Line will be converted into a moving walkway so we can get into town more quickly
@simontreanor the Jubilee line will often be closed on weekends. It’s a long shot, I know
@mermayden the Jubilee line will be closed entirely until the Olympics. So NOT a long shot.
@gitfinger the Jubilee Line will be shut most weekends all year. 🙁
@Sparklegirl21 They actually build something at the Thameslink station instead of playing with their diggers
@mermayden They build a tunnel from the Thameslink to the Jubilee line. It takes three weeks with no disruption to the local folk.
@David_Stringer One weekend, just one, the tubes AND overground will both work
@Warmachine450 The new Metropolitan line trains will be fitted with extra seats instead of the current design of less seats more standing

Am disappointed though that no-one predicted Boris Bikes arriving in West Hampstead (or us getting our own hyperlocal bike hire scheme), or a new shuttle bus service that connected Kilburn, West Hampstead and Hampstead Heath. Your ambitions were greater, however:
@blueskyflowers Mill Lane gets pedestrianised!
@PrioryTavern Belsize Road actually gets cleaned and the traffic wardens move office…
@fac203: #whampers will finally get an international airport…we do need an international airport…
And the most plausible prediction of all:
@aktaraja Roadworks/gasworks/electrical works on WEL

The imminent arrival of a Sainsbury’s Local on West End Lane inspired many of you to foresee a dystopian retail future – and in many cases to rebel against it.

@daveeeeeed Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda open up small branches in the plots between Sainsburys Local & Tesco Metro on WEL
@Daljit_Bhurji Atlanta Food & Wine becomes a Waitrose Local
@RandomCarlos The combined effect of both Tesco and Saunsbury delivery vans will cause National gridlock.
@mermayden I predict that the residents of West Hampstead will go postal on WEL Tesco’s arse and it will be forced to close.
@blakeconnolly We’ll all go to the new Sainsburys and ignore Tescos (everyone I know has a bad story about that place!)
@thepickyfoodie how about we ignore them all & support local shops instead?
@churchnw6 Locals successfully boycott the evil Tesco & Sainsbury Local and save local shops. WHamp flourishes again.

No-one mentioned the rumour that M&S has been sniffing around the Pizza Express site (long-time readers may remember that Pizza Express categorically denied that they were looking to offload the WEL restaurant when I asked them about it early last year). Mind you, in these straightened times, maybe we should be thinking more downmarket than Marks & Spencer’s

@marmitetoast Pound shop WARS in Kilburn when someone undercuts the 98p shop with a 97p shop
@Cyburn maybe a £1 shop will open in west hampstead or maybe a £2 shop which will be more posh.

Of course, 2011 can’t be all about supermarkets – what about the rest of the retail sector?

@marmitetoast More estate agents in West Hampstead; more bookmakers in Kilburn
@flyperson The number of local estate-agents will be eclipsed by that of coiffeurs.
[self-promotion alert] @RentalflatsNW6 We shall build on our core business and continue to offer a superb service for our current and new landlords in 2011
@giornalista1 After being shut for about 4 yrs, The Flower Mill on Mill Lane finally reopens – as a fabulous shoe shop
@bobbymann the new ‘mens’ hair and beauty salon that is due to open next to the station will shut down…
@netinyahoo I see Lately’s becoming a super club and taking over the parade of shops it is in!
@ichaloner I predict that Achillea Flowers will provide the flowers for at least 10 celebrity weddings
@leonora1 I will finally open my own craft shop!
@CharlieSnow Foxtons in Willesden Green fixes its window and then it gets broken again, and again and again.
@giornalista1 A shop opens on Willesden High Rd that doesn’t do fried chicken or payday loans.

Food & Drink
Despite it being a tough climate for the restaurant industry, you were relatively sanguine about how West Hampstead would fare with its fayre. With one notable exception:

@nickhudgell glo gets let to a mexican burrito joint.
@sblower ShakeTastic will produce a drink mixing peanut butter with fruit, and… roast veg.
@RandomCarlos The Indian takeaway by Oddbins will offer chicken curry & rice as ‘special of the day’… every day.
@gitfinger The restaurant formerly known as Le Petit Coin closes and reopens under a new guise. Twice.

Culture (sort of)
Sadly, no-one predicted that anything would take the place of The Luminaire, nor that a bunch of aspiring part-time actors would get together to form a WhamDram group.

@BBetter 30% of the residents will understand that hiphop is a culture and lifestyle, not just a music / dance etc. :o)
@gitfinger someone who has appeared on Dr Who moves to West Hampstead
@cathusmax Blue plaque for former resident Stephen Fry ‘s house? *it is the sleb centre of London REALLY*
@gitfinger West Hamstead library stays open! YAY!

Out of the blue
Some of you were less beholden to the traditional concerns of locals and came up with some good predictions for life in general

@mermayden Chloe Madeley and Ken Livingstone bond over a Starbucks latte and get it on.
@JessOutGirl A Whamp baby or wedding
[both subsequently confirmed before 2010 was even over]
@chinmj Official pronunciation of Kilburn to be confirmed as ‘west-‘hamp-‘sted
@trintrax 2011 snow will be just as slippery

The best predictions for 2011
As the WHampstead 7-a-side team gets going, the team is optimistic

@nickhudgell I predict that #whampkick team win the league..
@SamWong1 West Hampstead Wanderers to win the league, then get bought by an arab billionaire.

It will be 10 years since 9/11, and Osama bin Laden is still in hiding….

@DanDrillsma Bin Laden found directing global operations from the back room at Lower Ground Bar…
@Moyasarner …but no-one would ever know – What happens in Lower Ground Bar… *chorus sings* “Stays in Lower Ground Bar”

But my favourite prediction for 2011 goes to @Lewis_Hill

“I predict that getting punched or groped inside the Brondes Age will be re-named a “Kilburn Cuddle””

So, see you here in 12 months time to see what came true and what… er… didn’t.

Big WHamp Quiz of the Year

It’s been a good year for the blog and Twitter and the WHamp community generally. We’ve had lots of meet-ups over dinner, drinks and even our first picnic. The blog was mentioned a couple of times in The Guardian and I was the only non-mainstream media person allowed to the Hampstead & Kilburn election count in May.

We had to say goodbye to some of those who attended the very first whampgather (of which there have now been five!), although they will always remain honorary locals. Even Stephen Fry has left the neighbourhood. But many new friends have appeared, and there should be plenty more chances to get to know your neighbours in 2011. Look out for all your predictions in tomorrow’s New Year’s Day blog.

Back to this year, and rather than try and do a review of 2010, I thought I’d set you all a short (and very easy) quiz. No prizes, it’s quite lidderally “just a bit of fun”. Thank you for all your support over the past 12 months – West Hampstead Life and @WHampstead would be pointless without you all.

1. How many times did Boris Johnson visit West Hampstead during the election campaign?
A. Boris who?
B. They were only reported sightings. There was never any proof
C. Twice
D. We couldn’t get rid of him

2. Which of these is a genuine cocktail at the Betsy Smith?
A. Honey-roast parsnip shaken with caramelised red onion relish. El Jimador tequila, rhubarb liqueur, lemon and apple juice. Served with dolcelatte cheese garnish
B. Turkey breast puree blended into rosemary-infused cranberry juice and Grey Goose vodka. Served with a salt-encrusted sage leaf
C. Tomato juice, apricot essence, chipotle powder and celery salt muddled with Hendricks gin and vermouth. Served with a cheeky grin and a star anise
D. Warmed champagne and pineapple juice poured over three cherries soaked in Angostura bitters. Served with a forest fruits brochette

3. Election question a) What was the name of Tamsin Omond’s political party?
A. Creative Commons
B. Common Sense
C. Common Ground
D. The Commons

4. Election question b) What was Glenda Jackson’s winning margin over Chris Philp?
A. 4
B. 40
C. 42
D. 440

5. Who bowled the first ball in the Hampstead CC charity cricket match?
A. Emma Thompson
B. Jim Carter
C. Imelda Staunton
D. Daniel Radcliffe

6. Which popular local live music venue announced it was closing?

A. The Good Ship
B. Powers
C. Sir Colin Campbell
D. The Luminaire

7. What event opened up the Kilburn State to the public for the first time in several years?

A. The Pope’s visit to Kilburn
B. OxjamKilburn’s fashion show
C. Ruach Ministries Bring & Buy sale
D. General election hustings

8. Which restaurant did the whampreview gang rate highest overall in 2010?

A. The Green Room
B. The Wet Fish Café
C. Walnut
D. The Rotisserie

9. What have locals found slightly peculiar about new cafe Senses?

A. The staff speak only Magyar
B. They don’t allow pushchairs
C. The furniture is all for sale
D. There’s a mannequin in the window

10. Which children’s author was the first recipient of a green plaque in Kilburn?

A. Richmal Crompton
B. A.A. Milne
C. Kenneth Grahame
D. Alison Uttley

Final score:
0-3 Pay more attention in class
4-6 Unremarkable
7-9 You’re a keen whamper
10 You need to get out more

Thank you and good night.

Baby it’s cold outside

So, don’t know whether any of you noticed, but there’s been a light sprinkling of snow in NW6 over the past couple of days.

How do you think the council, TfL, and other public bodies have coped? Was enough done in advance? Was there enough grit? Have they reacted fast enough given the sudden dumping of a few inches in just a couple of hours? What else could have been done given financial constraints (remembering that despite snow in London over the past couple of years, it has been a relatively rare occurrence in the last decade or so)?

Let me know your experiences and your constructive thoughts for what could be done differently.

Remember to visit Camden’s winter pages for up-to-date information on services. And here’s an article from the BBC that gets behind the myth that the rest of Europe always copes better than we do.

Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 2011

I know, I know, it’s not even Christmas yet, but some of you lovely people want to know what excitement is on offer on New Year’s Eve in the neighbourhood. And who am I to stand between you and a continuation of your borderline alocholism.

In West Hampstead, The Gallery is having an 80s themed party. “Think ‘Back to The Future’, neon spandex, sweat bands, big hair and classic tunes!” Sounds more like a Fame tribute party to me. But remember people, “Fame costs, and right here’s where you start paying”. £20 to be precise (+ booking fee if you buy via View London).

Sister bar The Alice House is having a Masquerade Ball. “The venue will be styled with a traditional Victorian theme, cupcakes, masks, prizes at midnight, DJs and an early breakfast.” Tickets for this one are a slightly eye-watering £22 – the excitement kicks off at 9.30pm and goes ’til 4am.
The Mill Lane Bistro is having its first ever New Year’s Eve party. “There will be live performances, music, drinks and lots of dancing!” The bistro promises large discounts on drinks and “lots of punch”. Tickets bought in advance (£8) include a free drink and the chance to win a bottle of champagne. E-mail . Or pay £12 on the door (no drink included).

Over in Kilburn, The Good Ship has its annual ‘don’t rip off the punters’ New Years Eve Party. Doors open at 7.30pm and DJs Robot & Dinosauro will see you through the new year with “a delicious feast of best of 2010, indie dance extravaganza, post-modern new wave romance, some dirty, filthy electro madness and club classics you forgot you loved.” Entry is £5 in advance, £7 on the night (although it usually sells out in advance). Email to reserve tickets.

The Betsy Smith lives up to its slightly kooky image with Cirque de la Nuit. “Expect acrobatic mixology and fantastical feats by performers including Caged Lions and Tiger Dancers as well as the most weirdest and wonderful clown interludes.” There are 2-for-1 cocktails (7-9pm), dance floor favourites from guest DJ Final Conflict and a 4am licence. Tickets are £10 in advance but £20 on the night.

The North London Tavern is holding a Mad Hatters Dinner Party with Mock Turtle soup, Queen of Hearts Tart, a White Rabbit terrine, Warm Pigs Belly & Roast Dodo. Bookings on 0207 625 6634 or . Prizes for best costume and the bar is open until 2am. There’s a cover charge on the door for non-diners, but no tickets are available in advance. Am finding out the cost [watch this space]

The Westbury hosts “The Nextmen with their up-tempo, hip hop beats. Four hands, four decks, four times the fun! Assisting in the musical mash-up will be DJ Vadim with his eclectic vibe, enlisted by the talents of The Westbury’s favourite residents.” Doors open at 8pm, but get there any time before 9.30pm for a free cocktail. Buy your £20 tickets here.

Anything I’ve missed, please add into the comments, or mail me.

Christmas market success

There was a pleasingly busy flow of browsers and shoppers around West End Green on Saturday for the first ever West Hampstead Christmas market. In mercifully mild and dry weather, local businesses and craftspeople had a good selection of stalls. Feedback from both stallholders and residents was generally positive and fingers crossed that this will become an annual event. It would be nice if next year we could have a bigger tree and maybe more seasonal entertainment in the space in the middle.

Whampgather V – the saga continues

The fifth whampgather – a local tweet-up/party/excuse for drinking – took place on Thursday at The Lion on West End Lane in West Hampstead. Once again, it was fantastic to welcome familiar faces and plenty of new friends into the community.

There seemed to be a healthy dose of mingling taking place, which is sort of the point, and it was great to put faces to names of people I’ve been corresponding with for many months but had yet to meet.

Inevitably, a small contingent carried on the revelry at The Lower Ground Bar but, as those of us who are post-whampgather regulars know, what happens at the Lower Ground Bar stays at the Lower Ground Bar.

Mistakenly, I agreed to list the names of everyone who attended the next day on Twitter and then terribly embarrassingly missed a couple of people out. There were some people there I didn’t even get to speak to at all – but with a total turnout of more than 50 people that’s perhaps forgivable. For those of who you are on Twitter, you can find everyone who’s ever attended a whampgather, whampreview or any other of our whampevents on this list.

Expect the next whampgather to take place in the spring – hopefully with DJ Stoney behind the decks (or his laptop). To make sure you don’t miss out, follow the #whampgather hashtag on twitter, and/or sign up to the mailing list, which gives you a weekly round-up of local news and announcements of forthcoming events.

Thanks to everyone for coming, and roll on Whampgather VI. Meanwhile, a few photos (which seem to make it look a bit bloke-heavy, but actually was about 50/50).

West Hampstead Christmas shopping

Given that it’s now December and it’s snowing, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do a quick round-up of the best places for Christmas shopping in West Hampstead.

Since Dizar sadly closed, North West 6 on the corner of West End Lane and Blackburn Road is the only full-on gift shop on the street with a suitable collection of small bits and pieces, including jewellery, mugs, and Secret Santa sort of presents.

West End Lane Books should do a roaring trade this month – and don’t be shy of asking the staff for advice too. The bookshop even has a Christmas Shopping Day on December 9th when everything is 15% off from 9am-9pm  and there’s mulled wine and mince pies available in the evening *drool.

The Kitchener is fast becoming something of a local favourite. It is now rammed full of great things – not just basic kitchenware, but festive treats, spices, a good selection of cards and of course everything for the chef in your life. Want Christmas tree-shaped brownies? Get the moulds there.

If your loved ones are more into eating food than making it then you’re in luck. Peppercorns, LoveFood and Gustoso on West End Lane all sell foodie gifts. You can also order your Christmas meat and turkey from The Kitchen Stores on Mill Lane, and pick up chocolate, Christmas puddings and mince pies while you’re there.

For something more alternative and just a smidge further afield, why not go to Ms Marmite Lover’s Underground Farmers’ Market this Sunday afternoon , where there’ll be artisan wrapping paper, home-made liqueurs, cheese, sausages and Christmas puddings. Seriously, what’s not to like? You do have to buy £5 tickets in advance, and that will reveal the location – but it’s not too far away!

Of course the charity shops are a great source of gifts and cards, and heaven knows there are enough of them on West End Lane. Oxfam is probably the best for new (as opposed to second-hand) gifts. There are also Card Aid outlets at the Hampstead community centre and at the Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage when open.

If you like your Christmas just a little bit retro then you have to go along to tea-room extraordinaire bake-a-boo on Sunday from 2pm-6pm for its “Walking in a Vintage Wonderland” event. There’ll be vintage clothing, jewellery, flowers, nostalgic gifts, one off pieces made from vintage fabrics and of course edible gifts.

While you’re on Mill Lane, check out some of the art for sale in Thou Art in Hampstead – it doesn’t just frame pictures, it also sells them.

Thinking about decorating the house? Christmas trees are available from Homebase and the Hampstead Garden Centre on Iverson Road. Any why not pop along to Achillea Flowers on Mill Lane for a winter wreath. Homebase (don’t turn your nose up) does cheap and perfectly decent decorations – that is if you don’t feel the need to go over to Habitat in the O2 centre for this year’s colours.

Don’t do all your Christmas shopping too early though – you’ll miss the main event on Saturday 11th. The West End Lane Christmas market on West End Green promises to be excellent and I can reveal that stallholders include Zana Boutique, The Pink Petshop, Fortune Green Interiors, Achillea Flowers, bake a boo, Kitchen Table, Mill Lane Garden project, Rooms Above and Chocolo. There will also be stalls from independent local craftspeople selling jewellery, bags, tea towels, stained glass, cards, and knitwear. There may still be room for a couple more if anyone’s interested? Contact for more.

Local businesses in West Hampstead are also offering various discounts and promotions on the day, including West End Lane Books, Chez Chantal, David’s Deli, Walnut, Insight Opticians, Mill Lane Barbers, Holistic Hair and Beauty, Robert Brennan Fitness, The Alliance, Mill Lane Vets and Hair by Red.

So, whatever you want to buy this festive season why not buy locally where possible. Check out the local business directory for all the shops in the area, and LoveCamden for special offers.

Buying local might be a pound or so more than ordering online but it’s a lot more fun, you know it will arrive on time and you’ll be supporting local businesses at the end of what has been a very difficult year.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

Travesty (would be a good name for a font)

The redoubtable Annie Mole, whose Going Underground blog is one of London’s finest, today posted a photo of yet another tube map mashup. We’ve had lots of these of late – puns on film titles, anagrams, movies shot in the location – all following in the footsteps of Simon Patterson’s 1992 work, The Great Bear.

Today’s addition to the fold is from Eiichi Kono, the man responsible for the distinctive New Johnston typeface used on the standard map. Here, Kono has replaced all the stations on the modern tube map with the names of typefaces, so Waterloo is Frutiger, Liverpool Street is Baskerville, etc.

Photo courtesy of Annie Mole

Except he hasn’t replaced all the stations. Two – just two – are omitted*. West Hampstead and Finchley Road stations are marked on the map but have no associated typeface. Why would we be snubbed in such a way!?

Here’s a larger version of the photo above. Which typefaces would you choose to go on the map for West Hampstead and Finchley Road? Which would capture something of the essence of these two stations?

Would you go to Wood Grill?

Rings Pizza & Kebab shop has finally reopened as Wood Grill House (in what must have been one of the slowest ever refits of a kebab shop to a kebab shop). Local kebab fans Blake and Jess popped in last week to sample its wares. So, what did they think?

“As soon as we set foot into the grotto-like Wood Grill House, it was obvious that it would be a little bit different. There is a copious amount of wood both inside and out. Oddly, the tree bark-clad walls were covered in Halloween decorations, despite the place opening in November, with scary things such as green cobwebs, plastic spiders, Jack-o’-lanterns and, erm, a photograph of Michael Jackson.

Jess tries some pickle

It’s a tight, narrow space with stools along each wall for people to dine in and the counter at the back with everything you’d expect from a kebab place crammed into a tight kitchen area. With the drinks refrigerator in there as well, you’ll find yourself shuffling around to get out of people’s way when it gets busy, which it did a couple of times while we were there. It has only been open a couple of days, but already seems to have picked up business.

There is a Shisha Garden downstairs, which we didn’t explore, it’s hard to imagine that it’s much of a garden though.

I decided to go for a simple order, burger and chips, only then to notice that on the other side of the menu there was a more expensive “homemade burger” served with salad and chips – not entirely sure what the difference would have been.

I normally like onions on a burger but it seemed all the salad vegetables were mixed in together. Although this space-saving idea makes some sense, there still managed to be plenty of room in there for oddities such as some bright pink carrots. On closer inspection these were in fact a pickle.

My food was… well, my burger was fine. Just fine. Nothing more or less than that. It was no better or worse than what you would find in Karahi Master down the road. It did at least hit the spot after a long day at work and the service was very friendly. Jess’s chicken shish kebab, however, was “delicious, succulent and tender” and the marinade “luscious”.

“succulent” chicken shish

We were divided on our final verdict. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it to anyone, but if you are in need of a late-night bite on the way back from an evening out, don’t be afraid of the unusual and slightly scary setting and give it a try. Jess was far more positive, giving it an 8/10 with the only negatives being the lack of space for waiting and the vast quantity of napkins they distributed for two people (not so eco-friendly). The two meals and two drinks came to £10.40.”

Wood Grill House
104 West End Lane
T: 020 7624 8787

West Hampstead’s witches and warlocks

Halloween is around the corner, but these days it’s more of an excuse to smear black lipstick on the rim of a cocktail glass than to knock at your neighbour’s door in the vain hope of receiving some Haribo (or a tangerine if they’re middle class).

So, you’re in your best Morticia Addams or Freddie Kruger costume but don’t want to brave the scary beast that is the Jubilee Line. You need Halloween action, but you need it local. What are your options?

Last year, sister bars The Gallery and The Alice House sensibly had their Halloween parties on separate nights. This year, The Gallery takes the lead with two consecutive nights of ghoulish partying at Gothic Horror Halloween on Friday and Saturday. The bar is open ’til 2am and the flyer says “Dress to kill (literally)”, which we can only hope they don’t regret on Sunday morning.

The Alice House meanwhile has a “Not so scary” Halloween theme on Friday and Saturday with prizes for best costumes. I’m not sure whether the prize is for the least scary costume…

DJ_Postscript will be pumpkin’ out the tunes (sorry, sorry) at The Railway on Saturday night from 8 ’til late, and The Lion also has a DJ lined up. A DJ too at the revamped Priory Tavern on Belsize Road, where they’ll be serving cauldron cocktails on Saturday, while on Sunday there’s face painting for kids and “devilish roasts”.

Head over to Kilburn and new kid on the block The Betsy Smith is hosting Fangtasia on Saturday from 7pm-3am. The blurb for this True Blood themed party says “be very nice to our vampire sheriff of the Kilburn district or punishments will be given!! People have been known to go missing….”. So, just an average night out in Kilburn then.

The Westbury has a Juicebox Halloween Party on Saturday from 8pm-3am. This night of “drinking, dancing and general tomfoolery” is free before 9pm, £3 from 9-10pm and £5 after 10pm. Or free at any time if you come in fancy dress. Although quite who decides what’s fancy dress and what’s just Lady Gaga popping in on her way back from Tesco Express is not clear.

Finally, one of the few events actually taking place on Halloween itself is The Good Ship‘s Celebrity Shame Halloween Party. “Think Lindsey Lohan in prison get up, George Michael frequenting toilet cubicles, Cheryl Cole punching toilet attendants…”. It’s £3 in and prizes for best costumes.

Whatever you’re up to, have a gorylicious Halloween, and remember the clocks go back at 2am Sunday morning, so you’ll get an extra witching hour this year.

West Hampstead’s X(mas) Factor

I know it’s only October, but there’s a reason why I’m bringing up the “C” word so early. And that reason is: volunteers!

New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill is looking to get a Christmas Fair off the ground. The idea is to support the local shops (which we’re all generally in favour of, right?) and it has been well received by traders, the council and a few community-minded folk already. It is likely to take place on the weekend of 11/12 December on West End Green.

But it won’t take place at all without your help.

Putting such a thing together does require support from within the community, so Gillian has asked me to put the word out to see whether anyone who would like to get some experience of event organising (or of course who already has it) would like to get involved.

Naturally, the traders themselves will be involved and there are talks with possible sponsors as well. But between now and the end of the month there’s plenty to do in terms of consultations, paperwork and other duties. If there are enough volunteers then the time commitment shouldn’t be more than a few hours a week.

If you’re interested, and would like to see West End Green host a Christmas fair to give a seasonal boost to the community please contact Gillian at .

It’s pizza time

It’s Tuesday, there’s footie on the telly and nothing in the fridge. What are you going to do? One word, five letters, incorrect transliteration of the original Italian spelling. Yes, it’s pizza time.

A select group of locals with refined palates and empty stomachs decided to investigate pizza delivery options in West Hampstead – and lo, pizza-tasting was born.

There are four West Hampstead-based pizza delivery places at the moment, and we threw in one from Finchley Road for good measure. We had menus from Domino’s, Pizza Lupa, Papa John’s, Sarracino and that Finchley Road interloper Basilico on the table – one menu each; ready, steady, go.

We ordered in decreasing order of proximity in a futile attempt to cause a five-scooter pile-up. Basilico was first up and we went for a 13″ Ruspante (£13.75), which had smoked chicken, tomato, mozzarella, dolcellate, brie and red onions. First to order, last to deliver, taking just over the 45 minutes proclaimed on the website. Oddly, the website also suggested we might like to order some fresh carrot juice for £3.00. We declined. Aside from strange recommendations, the website was easy to use.

Domino’s had its Two for Tuesday offer and far be it from us to turn down free pizza. Once again ordering online pizza was simple. We picked a classic 11.5″ New Yorker (pepperoni, ham, bacon, mushrooms) and a 11.5″ Vegi Volcano (onions, green peppers, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, extra mozzarella cheese) for £13.99. It took 32 minutes to arrive.

Pizza Lupa was next up – Pizza Cucina in London Bridge has merged with Lupa’s two north London outlets to deliver a new menu for customers of all three. We opted for the £12.50 13″ Funghi di Bosco (truffle paste, roasted field and porcini mushrooms, taleggio, thyme, truffle oil). It took 16 minutes to arrive. The web interface was identical to Basilico’s strangely.

Papa John’s also had a 2-for-1 deal. We chose a medium Papa John’s Favourite (Italian style six-cheese blend, pepperoni, sausage, Italian style seasoning) and a Chicken BBQ (chargrilled chicken, barbeque sauce, bacon, onions) both thin crust (you can also choose “original”). It took about 20 minutes to arrive and cost £13.99, but the online ordering process was slow compared to all the others.

Finally, a quick phone call to Sarracino (which doesn’t have online ordering) and an £8.95 Cafoncella pizza (mozzarella, sausage, potato, smoked cheese and rosemary) was on its way. By far the quickest (but also the nearest), this took just 10 minutes.

So, what did we think? There wasn’t a great deal of agreement, especially with so many strong flavours involved. The Cafoncella split opinion the most – it was my favourite, with the pungent rosemary just managing not to overpower the other flavours. But one man’s “subtle” is another man’s “bland”, it would seem. The base was crispy and it was clearly freshly made.

Basilico’s cheese feast of a pizza was too rich and the red onions too sweet for me. It looked spectacular, and was the least round of all the pizzas. Brie is an unusual pizza topping, and it slightly overwhelmed. The base wasn’t so much thin as almost non-existent, making this the hardest to eat.

Pizza Lupa’s mushroom extravaganza looked the best, and smelled amazing. It wasn’t the hottest sadly. If you like mushrooms then you are probably going to like this pizza really quite a lot although I’d prefer it with less cheese.

Those are the ’boutique’ pizzerias, but what about the big boys? Papa John’s and Domino’s both delivered the hottest pizzas, the most uniformly round pizzas and had pre-sliced them. Domino’s New Yorker disappointed – a little too greasy, and the base wasn’t especially crisp.

The Vegi Volcano on the other hand was the surprise package of the night – it didn’t look the best, but it tasted good, with the right balance of jalapenos to give it a kick. Of the four pizzas from the two chains, this was my favourite.

Papa John’s Favourite was our least favourite. The six cheese blend was just an unidentifiable mound of melting fat, and the pepperoni slices were far too crispy and fatty. Not for me.

The Chicken BBQ looked strange, with the BBQ sauce drizzled over chef-style, eliciting laughs from us all. However, “if you like BBQ sauce, then you’ll like this pizza,” seemed to be the consensus. Some people went back for seconds, I didn’t finish my slice.

All but Sarracino offer online ordering, but if you’re a first-time customer then the registration process for all the websites is tedious and slow. Phoning up is probably the better option although you’ll then have to pay cash on delivery.

Between five of us, we’d munched our way through the best part of seven pizzas (and may or may not have drunk a reasonable number of bottles of red wine). We were full, it was time for bed, and there was still plenty left over for breakfast…

Collection or delivery
Domino’s, 262 West End Lane
020 7431 0045 (11am to 11pm/11.30 Fri/Sat)
Basilico, 515 Finchley Road
0800 313 2656 (11am ’til late)
Pizza Lupa, 255 West End Lane
020 7431 5222 (12.30 to 10.30pm)
Papa John’s, 177 West End Lane
020 7624 0197 (11am to 11pm/midnight Fri/Sat)

Collection, deliver, or eat-in
Sarracino, 186 Broadhurst Gardens
020 7372 5889 (5.30 to 11pm Mon-Fri, midday to 11pm Sat/Sun)

Collection or eat-in (no delivery)
Pizza Express, 319 West End Lane
020 7431 8229
La Smorfia, 327 West End Lane
020 7431 4101
J’s, 218 West End Lane
020 7435 3703

This blogpost is sponsored by Domino’s Pizza. All opinions expressed are completely independent.

West Hampstead at war

As London commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Blitz, I thought I’d take a look at how West Hampstead fared during the war. There are tales of amazing rescues, tragic stories of wedding parties, and some explanation for the streetscape we all inhabit today.

The old borough of Hampstead was not as affected as badly as some parts of London as it had no major military targets. Nevertheless, more than 200 people died in the borough as a result of bombing. The density of the railway lines around here probably contributed to some of the munitions that fell in NW6, a tiny number of which are mapped below.

View West Hampstead WW2 sites (a small selection) in a larger map

West Hampstead itself escaped widespread damage, and large-scale rebuilding was not needed. Indeed, much of the 19th and early 20th century character of the area remained intact. But that is not to say that life was easy for residents during the two main periods of bombing raids: 1940/41 and 1944/45.

The first bomb to fall in the area hit Birchington Road at the end of August 1940, but the first serious damage in West Hampstead happened a couple of weeks later. The sirens sounded at 10pm on September 18th, and in the early hours of the 19th seven bombs fell between Mill Lane and Sumatra Road killing 19 people. In a macabre conicidence, 19 was also the number of houses destroyed. These included 76–86 Sumatra Road and 9–17 Solent Road.

It was a sharp wake-up call for wartime whampers many of whom – like people across the country – were only starting to believe that the war was ever going to be a direct threat to them.

A week later, another seven bombs struck in Broadhurst Gardens – the first strike of many for this road. Amazingly just three people died but only a few houses escaped damage. Ten days later, on October 7th, the central library on Finchley Road – now the site of the Camden Arts Centre – was badly damaged and a female warden on duty at the observation post was killed. This was a night of heavy bombing across the country. A wing of Hampstead School in Westbere Road (then Haberdashers School) was damaged; this plaque marks the event.

(photo courtesy of Ed Fordham)

The Blitz lasted until May 1941, killing some 20,000 Londoners. Tube stations provided natural bomb shelters and Hampstead and Belsize Park were especially popular due to their depth. War artist and famous sculptor Henry Moore made some evocative sketches of people huddled together in Belsize Park tube. Residents had to get to these stations fast though as space was limited.

Swiss Cottage also served as a shelter, although initially there were no toilets and people had to take the train to Finchley Road to use facilities there. Councils began to realise that people were going to use the stations regardless so began to make them more comfortable, installing bunk beds, toilets and providing some refreshments.

Quite a community built up among the regular occupants of Swiss Cottage and they produced their own magazine called (honestly) The Swiss Cottager. There was a lobbying component to this publication. Bulletin No.2 claimed that “the installation of three-tier bunks on tube platforms would be hailed with relief by the thousands of people who nightly use the tube-station platforms as dormitories.”

The group also politely requested that shelterers refrained from bringing their own deck-chairs and suggested people were being “far too generous” with their litter.

Such doughty spirit was part of the reason Hitler turned his attention to other fronts and large-scale bombing of Britain subsided. He had failed to crush either the morale of Britons or sufficient industrial sites. Even during this lull in bombardment there was the occasional mishap: in 1943, a barrage balloon caught fire and fell onto houses on Gascony Avenue.

On Saturday February 19th, 1944 bombing began again. A bomb at the corner of West End Lane and Dennington Park Road struck a wedding party. The Camden History Society’s excellent Hampstead at War gives a full description of the explosion, which killed 10 people including two babies.

“In a flat over a butcher’s shop, a party was in progress attended by relatives and friends of the occupier’s son, a soldier who was to be married later that day. The company remained during the alert in unprotected rooms, no doubt lulled into a false sense of security by the long period of aerial inactivity. A high explosive bomb fell at ten past one in the morning demolishing the upper part of the premises over the shop… The premises were soon burning furiously and the rescuers were forced back time and time again.., The only survivor from the party was the father of the bridegroom who had left the room and gone to the rear of the house just before the bomb fell.”

The site wasn’t rebuilt until 1954, and today houses West Hampstead’s library.

That same night, eight bombs fell within 100 yards of each other at Agamemnon Road and, although only three exploded, 16 people were killed at what is now a terrace of three-storey houses built in 1952.

A few months later aerial bombardment intensified again when the V1 flying bombs entered service. Hampstead borough took 10 hits from V1s. Hampstead Town Hall was a vital observation point to track the V1s, and wardens would follow the bombs right to the point of impact – even if that was just yards from where they sat.

The first flying bomb hit a West End Lane house used as a hostel for refugees. Three houses were completely destroyed but the damage extended across five roads. Rescue efforts lasted two days and although 17 people died, a woman was found alive 48 hours after the bomb exploded.

The site was used to build Sydney Boyd Court in 1953, the large council estate that hugs the curve of West End Lane between Acol Road and Woodchurch Road.

In late June 1944, Broadhurst Gardens was struck again, at almost exactly the same point as in 1940. The following day, a building in Mortimer Crescent was hit – it was used to store furniture for people whose own houses had been destroyed. This was probably the same attack that forced author George Orwell out of his Mortimer Crescent home, where he had written Animal Farm. Further doodlebugs hit Fortune Green Road, Mill Lane (damaging an ambulance station) and Parsifal Road where a District Warden headquarters was damaged.

Broadhurst Gardens suffered yet more damage in August 1944 when a V1 fell in the gardens between Broadhurst and Compayne Gardens just 50 yards from the previous bomb. The road was the worst affected in the borough, which is why large stretches of it are occupied today with council housing.

More than 1,300 V2s fell on London (only Antwerp was targeted more) killing 2,750 people. Britain never developed effective countermeasures for these supersonic missiles. Of those 1,300 V2s only four had an impact in this area, with one causing particularly widespread damage.

Superlocal blog Northwest 6 covered wartime memories a couple of years ago. One reader, John Lewis, recalled “I was staying with my grandparents at 25 Gladys Road towards the end of WW2 when a V2 came down about 250m away in Iverson Road. I was covered in soot, dust and broken glass but unharmed.”

In 2004, the Camden New Journal printed an anecdote from Gladys Cox, who also recounted a bomb in Iverson Road. Although her account said it was in January 1944 it seems likely it was in fact the 1945 attack.

“After lunch, it stopped snowing, and as the air was invigorating we walked, or slithered in the slush, down to Iverson Road. Here, rows and rows of small houses had been blasted from back to front; doors, windows, ceilings all one. Whole families were out in the street standing beside the remains of their possessions, piled on the pavements waiting for the removal vans; heaps of rubble everywhere, pathetically showing bits of holly and Christmas decorations.”

The bomb actually fell on the railway embankment, but both sides of the railways suffered. The driver of the first rescue vehicle on the scene found one of the dead – his own 19-year-old daughter. One woman was rescued eight hours later after the rescue teams had almost given up. She was found jammed under a sink in the scullery.

Iverson Road was by far the worst affected street, but damage extended to Sheriff, Maygrove, Ariel, Loveridge and Lowfield Roads, Netherwood Street and West End Lane. Although only three people lost their life, 1,600 people required some form of assistance and 400 had to be temporarily rehoused. There’s another personal account of the attack at Northwest 6.

Seventy years later, it can all feel rather like a numbers game. So many people died, so many houses were damaged. It is impossible for most of us who have grown up in a peaceful western Europe to wrap our heads around the permanent sense of fear that must have underpinned lives for millions and millions of people across Europe during the war. The work of the civil defence organisations and rescue services should not be overlooked. They may not have received the plaudits of the fly boys in the Battle of Britain, or Monty’s Desert Rats, but their commitment to the lives of ordinary Londoners was astonishing.

Hampstead at War, Hampstead 1939-1945, pub Camden History Society, 1995 (first published in 1946)
Wartime Camden, Life in Camden during the First and Second World Wars, compiled by Hart, V. & Marhsall, L, pub. London Borough of Camden, 1983
‘Hampstead: West End’, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9: Hampstead, Paddington (1989), pp. 42-47.

The Arches – restaurant review

The quirky interior of The Arches is certianly different to anything else in the area. A multitude of lampshades dangle from the ceiling, interspersed with what look like dolls of witches. There are even (fake – please say they are fake) cobwebs on the shelves above our table. “It would be a perfect place for a Halloween party,” commented someone.

This wine bar-cum-restaurant has been a fixture of the South Hampstead scene for many years. It’s  a healthy 10 minute walk from West Hampstead tube station (Swiss Cottage is much closer) and has a loyal local following who enjoy sitting outside on Fairhazel Gardens with a glass of something good. We were there to road-test the food, however.

There is a bar menu, a restaurant menu, and a specials board. There’s no particular theme to the food, with some Asian, Mediterranean and resolutely British offerings. Never a great sign – I would rather have a chef who can focus on one cuisine.

Sarah and Laura plumped for the pumpkin soup of the day, which was deemeed to be woefully lacking in seasoning. “It tastes of cream and hot and pepper”, said Laura having added the pepper herself.

Not a good start. Tom and Holly went for the fried halloumi – a change from the squeaky grilled treatment it usually gets. Both seemed very happy, with Tom praising the salad dressing and the presence of sundried tomatoes, “always a winner”. This certainly looked the most attractive starter. The rest of us went for the smoked duck caesar salad, which worked well and was a generous starter portion, but was otherwise unremarkable.

Several of us went for main courses from the specials board. I had the pork chop with mash and apple sauce (a large quantity of both). Sadly the pork was overcooked and dry and any flavour eradicated. It wasn’t unpleasant, and the crackling was decent enough, but I was glad that there was an overdose of the very nice mash.

The roast cod special looked the best dish of the night. Tom, Lisa and Sarah all said it was very well cooked, although Sarah thought the portion was on the small side and was lusting after someone else’s side order of diced sautéed potatoes to replace her own boiled new potatoes.

Gary and Justin both went for steak – which was presented rather unattractively alone on a plate with quite a lot of similarly brown sauce (or was it “jus”?). Vegetables are included but, like the potatoes, they come separately to share. Mercifully the veg (beans and broccoli) were perfectly cooked. Justin declared his steak to be “fucking amazing” (he’s Australian so forgive the language!) and Gary also seemed happy (if not quite so demonstrably ecstatic) with his. Holly’s chicken wrapped in pancetta was on the dry side, but tasted good. Once again, Laura was unfortunate – her prawns from the bar menu were uninspiring and she reckoned she’d had much better for less money.

Full as usual after dessert we shared one each of the three specials: an almond and mango crumble (good taste, but too dry), a creme brulee (very good) and a cheesecake (dull).

As a wine bar – and allegedly with one of the best wine lists in north London – the choice of wines verges on the overwhelming. You can drop £1500 for a magnum of 1990 Chateau Latour if you want, but obviously most wines are more affordable. However, disappointingly, most of the cheaper wines beyond the most basic house wines have “Sold” pencilled in next to them. Even our first choice red (a Sicilian Nero d’Avola) turned out be sold out as well.

It’s a shame they haven’t updated the wine list to reflect the gaps in the cellar – or replenished the missing bottles. We ended up with a South Africa Pinotage and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc both of which were good value.

Sadly, the woman who runs The Arches wasn’t working that night. She is a very welcoming character and without her the service was a little lacklustre, although in my previous visits that’s never been an issue.

Everyone liked the vibe, with its quirky neighbourhood atmosphere. There was a consensus that the food didn’t quite deliver on expectations, but as a local wine bar it’s hard to beat – and if you do need something to soak up the alcohol then the menu offers plenty of choice but you may want to choose wisely.

Food 7.2
Service 6.4
Value 5.9
Overall 7.8
Good for: wine lovers
Bad for: clutterphobes
The Arches
7 Fairhazel Gardens
Swiss Cottage
T: 020 7624 1867
Arches on Urbanspoon

The Railway’s musical legacy

It’s common knowledge that The Beatles auditioned at Decca studios on Broadhurst Gardens, now the English National Opera premises. The New Years Day (1962) session didn’t go as well as manager Brian Epstein hoped and resulted in the now infamous rejection: “The Beatles have no future in show business”.

Also fairly well known is that The Railway pub on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane had an upstairs function room that played host to big name acts including the Rolling Stones and London’s adopted guitar hero Jimi Hendrix. During this time it was called the Klooks Kleek and was a key component of the capital’s burgeoning blues scene. Supergroup Cream even recorded its first live album there. Along with Mick, Eric and Jimi, luminaries such as John Mayall and Georgie Fame graced the stage at Klooks – or would have done if there had actually been a stage. This article from Down the Lane tells the whole story.

Klooks was like an old Victorian drawing room, some 20 metres square and unlike other venues had no stage at all. The floor was carpeted, the walls curtained in red velvet and covered in flock wallpaper, all making for very good acoustics. There were no mixing desks, lighting rigs, sound/ lighting engineers or even sound checks, the bands just tuned up and played. It was a bit like a gig in your own front room

What I did not know until this morning was that even in the 1970s and 80s the venue was still pulling in big names. In 1979, an up-and-coming rock group played The Moonlight – as it had been renamed. It appears to be the first time Paul, Dave, Larry and Adam had gigged outside Ireland. The U2gigs site contains this short review of the set from an Adam Symons.

U2 were very intense and Bono was mesmerising. The small hot club with its low ceiling was claustrophobic in a good way, if that is possible. Their short set left a great impression on me…”

The Moonlight was also on the small circuit of London clubs that hosted the occasional southern forays by the new wave of Manchester bands. The Dark Circle Room blog has some of the recordings from Joy Division’s Factory by Moonlight gigs (note the spelling mistake in the sleeve notes of the live album).

Here’s a faster loading set list, photos of the entrance as it looks now, and an extract from the NME about the impending refurb of the club.

Of course West Hampstead has other musical claims to fame. Artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield and Slash were both born here; and that Decca audition might have put the Fab Four off NW6 but it didn’t stop them from recording some of their most influential material just down the road by the world’s most famous zebra crossing.

Live music can still be found from time to time along West End Lane: at the Lower Ground Bar, The Wet Fish Café, Pizza Express, even – once in a while – at The Railway itself. But local music fans have to trot down to Kilburn venues such as The Luminaire, The Good Ship or Powers, or hold out for the OxjamKilburn festival for their fix of anything redolent of the days when Keith Richards riffed through the clouds of his own cigarette smoke at Klooks Kleek.

West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

Hidden Treasure – so is it?

Had we been rumbled? An enormous cake appeared that looked at first glance to be made almost entirely of cream. We hadn’t ordered this. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Yet here was a cake and our lively Italian waiter who seemed to be managing the whole place by himself told us it was on the house.

That saved us ordering dessert I guess. Not that any of us were especially hungry. Hidden Treasure‘s seemingly infinite combinations of seafood and carbohydrate (mostly in pasta form) had satisfied our appetites. There are other things on the menu, although it’s hard to be sure that you’ve actually seen everything on offer – it was only when I was having coffee that someone mentioned the specials that were written on a tiny chalkboard above and behind me.

Navigating the main menu and its various inserts had taken us all long enough and with so much to choose from, the decision to share various antipasti along with a vitello tonnato was met with relief.

The Grande Antipasto of meats, olives, cheeses was certainly made for sharing, the bruschette looked good but for some reason never made it to my end of the table. The grilled mixed vegetables seemed like they’d been grilled some time ago and then marinated almost to the point of pickling. This is not to say that they didn’t taste good, but I don’t think it was what we were expecting. The vitello tonnato was disappointing, the sauce lacked flavour and was an odd consistency. I certainly didn’t want more than one mouthful of this dish that is sublime at its best.

Maybe we should have expected that for a place built around seafood the standout starter would be the clams. They were excellent – a very generous portion of sizeable juicy clams and the garlic and parsley sauce was perfect. Frankly a bowl of those and a glass of wine would have left me very happy. They were so good that Jess boldly tried her first ever clam and emerged unscathed.

We were drip-fed main courses which came out more or less one at a time, although feeding a party of 8 from what must be a small kitchen in a small restaurant is not easy. Indeed although the service was not the quickest, it was probably the most engaging and friendly we’ve had at any of the restaurant reviews.

Seafood was the theme of the day for most people. Simon bucked the trend with his chicken saltimbocca, while Matt pushed the boat out with the half-lobster special – a cunning dish that looked spectacular but wasn’t actually as big as it seemed at first glance.

All the dishes were served on oversized fish and crustacea shaped plates, which adds to the slightly kitsch décor (there was talk of deducting points for the (fake) zebra skin that hangs on one wall). The plates were a talking point, but would have been more impressive if they’d been hot – mine at least was stone cold.

The wine (a white Pinot Grigio and a red Cabernet Franc) flowed, spaghetti, tagliatelle and linguine was twirled, gnocchi was.. er… forked and the shells of various molluscs were discarded. The visual impact of the dishes was great, and overall everyone was agreed that the taste was good too. There were of course minor quibbles: Andrea‘s risotto wasn’t quite unctuous enough, Sarah‘s seafood/spaghetti combo was on the oily side, and Matt’s garlic sauce “lacked zip”. But Tom‘s gnocchi dish had an unexpected depth of flavour and my own bowl of tagliatelle and seafood was only an extra squeeze of lemon, scattering of parsley, and perhaps sprinkle of chopped chilli away from perfection.

Jess’s variation on penne all’arrabbiata was “superb” but it was Sue who was by far the happiest. She confessed to having grown too accustomed to proper Italian home cooking while living there to always enjoy Italian restaurants here, but then proceeded to rave about her classic linguine alla vongole, praising its authenticity and simplicity, “and I loved the atmosphere and the owners” she added.

Hidden Treasure has had some mixed reviews, and some locals have vowed never to go there again. Maybe we got lucky, but none of the eight of us were disappointed and I think we would all add it to the list of places to frequent. It’s not the cheapest restaurant around, and the final bill was high partly thanks to the wine consumption (think we might need to be a bit more frugal at future reviews!). However, sitting out front on what the restaurant calls a garden (but the rest of us would call a terrace) with a £10 bowl of pasta and seafood would seem to be a very agreeable way to spend a warm summer evening on West End Lane.

Food 7.5
Service 8.1
Value 6.7
Overall 7.9
Good for: seafood lovers
Bad for: interior designers
Hidden Treasure
311 West End Lane
West Hampstead
London NW6 1RD
T: 020 7435 5040

Hidden Treasure on Urbanspoon

A little bit about bikes

Congratulations to @flyperson (above), who may well have been the first person to bring one of the new Boris bikes into West Hampstead and is certainly the first to provide unphotoshopped evidence (compare and contrast with this from @garymc!).

We are of course too far out of central London to have our own docking stations here in the ‘hood, so how might whampers best make use of the scheme?

The nearest docking stations are in St John’s Wood and there are a couple in Maida Vale near Warwick Avenue tube station (the red dots on the map mark the bike stations). So if you want to take advantage of those, they’re no more than a short bus ride/walk away. At that point, hopping on a bike to take you into town might be quicker than sitting on a bus, especially during busy periods when as we all know Oxford St can be jammed.

They can also be used to save on bus transfers – want to go to Hyde Park from West End Lane? Rather than changing tubes or walking from Selfridges, get on a 139 and then grab a bike from Abbey Road/Hall Road and shoot down Lisson Grove and Seymour Place.

Circle Line not running and you fancy going to South Kensington? Jump on a 328 to Portobello Road/Pembroke Road – grab a bike and make your way through Notting Hill Gate and onto Kensington Gore, there aren’t too many docking stations right outside the museums, but there are plenty within 2-3 minutes walk.

I shall personally use it to cut out the disastrously slow bus route from Kensington High St into Piccadilly Circus. It’s only 2.5 miles, but it can take 30-40 minutes on a bus, about the same as walking. Hop on a bike at the southern end of Kensington Church Street (by a 328 bus stop) and it should only take 10 minutes to get to the other end. If you (understandably) don’t fancy tackling the traffic around Hyde Park Corner, you can either wheel your bike through the subway (they’re heavy so avoid anything involving stairs), or drop your bike off by the Queen Elizabeth Gates, walk through to the edge of Green Park and hop on a new one.

I would strongly recommend looking at the guide to cycling in the Royal Parks, which gives maps of the cycle paths through the parks as well as the location of docking stations – far more pleasant to trundle along South Carriage Drive than battle the traffic on Kensington Road.

Two final thoughts of how one might use the bikes from a West Hampstead perspective. No weekend Met Line and Thameslink not running across London? Go as far as St Pancras, grab a bike and cycle south. It’s less than two miles down to Waterloo Bridge and a smidge further to Southwark Bridge for South Bank attractions. Or what if you want to go to Greenwich or Docklands but the Jubilee Line is closed? Again, take a bike from St Pancras to Tower Gateway and hop on the DLR.

So, although it seems very unlikely that we’ll ever get bike stations up here in NW6, by using the excellent transport links we DO have, whampers can still benefit from the bike hire scheme. Not already registered? Read all about the scheme and the charges here and then sign up.

PS – if you wonder whether I have any experience of cycling peculiar bikes, then check out this heap of junk I was given for a day in Nebraska last month

Mill Lane Bistro – restaurant review: A new legacy?

Bar 77 was a West Hampstead institution. I was one of many sad people when the owners called it a day. What came in its place was Cini. No-one knew how to pronounce it and it seemed no-one wanted to eat there. I was among many who didn’t care at all when it finally closed its doors.

What now for this landmark address? The left-hand side of Bar 77 – once the venue for my 30th birthday party – is now a mini-market. But the right-hand side has become the accurately named “Mill Lane Bistro”. It’s rather nice.
Deliberately or not, the dark wooden tables hark back to those ’77’ days as does the friendly welcome. The menu now is a sort of hybrid British/French selection. It is short. Very short. I think this is good. New restaurants that try and maintain a high standard when the menu stretches across several pages are usually asking for trouble. There are three starters and three main courses along with a couple of specials. There is also a rustic bar menu too – making it very clear that you’re as welcome for a drink and a bite to eat as for a full meal. Despite the brevity of choice none of the eight of us seem to struggle with what to have. It’s short and it reads well. It also means we don’t take long to decide.
While the starters were being prepared we turned our attention to the wine, upgrading from glasses to bottles of a good white Entre deux Mers (£16) and a Pinot Noir (£24) that had @Ghoul_of_London in raptures. The wine list didn’t seem extensive, but what we had was good.

The starters duly arrived and everyone tucked in. Tom and @MarkLedder‘s asparagus looked great with large (hopefully English new season) spears topped with a poached egg (“slightly overdone”) and “not enough” hollandaise. @chinmj‘s decision to go for a bar snack starter of hard thin salami sausage with bread left him sawing away at the sausages but with no complaints about flavour. The beef carpaccio, although not thin enough to merit the name, was delicious and unusually the dressing was very lightly applied, which I appreciated. Scallops varied in size from normal to enormous, leading to some quite amusing looking plates but the chef had at least tried to balance them out agaist perhaps too much of the de rigeur pea purée.

Mains of ribeye steak, sea bream (the special), rack of lamb, and a vegetarian option of rösti for @uponair all came in generous portions but far less overwhelming than the plates at LoveFood a couple of weeks earlier. The bream was particularly well presented with a “spring festival” of baby vegetables underneath an ample fillet of fish topped with a light creamy sauce and mussels although @StyleOnTheCouch seemed less impressed than I was. Some would have preferred their lamb a little pinker and we were surprised not to have been asked how we wanted it cooked, however it tasted great. @DJStoney may have even used the word “sublime”. Steaks did come out as requested with @Kayskill‘s medium rare looking on the money.

Of course we had room for desserts: a classic lemon tart and a chocolate gourmand plate were both well received. @MarkLedder had spent the day caffeined up to his eyeballs in Paris dashing back on an earlier train so as not to miss #whampreview excitement. Immune to any further impact he joined me and @uponair in an espresso only to find that it wasn’t an espresso at all but just a small strong coffee. It’s a small thing but, for a French style bistro, worth getting right.

It sounds like I’ve picked out all the minor mistakes, but overall everyone had a great evening. Notably the overall score was quite a bit higher than the separate scores because the atmosphere is good, it’s comfortable and relaxed. Service was accommodating and as the place has been open only a few weeks, it is not surprising that it hasn’t quite reached perfection. I shall definitely be back and am delighted that the Bar 77 legacy has been revived. Indeed, there’s no reason why the Mill Lane Bistro can’t become an institution in its own right.

Food 7.4
Service 7.8
Value 6.3
Overall 8.4
Good for: convivial people
Bad for: perfectionists
Mill Lane Bistro
77 Mill Lane
West Hampstead
London, NW6 1NB
T: 0207 794 5577

Lovely food at LoveFood? Restaurant review

[Ed:LoveFood is now an upstairs café and the restaurant has closed]

If you love food in the sense that you enjoy it in large quantities, then LoveFood’s restaurant will not disappoint. If you love food in the sense of enjoying quality ingredients cooked exquisitely, then modify your expectations slightly, but don’t throw them out of the window.

Seven of us descended into the basement below the delicatessen/crêperie/café on West End Lane in West Hampstead a little unsure what to expect. Would we be the only diners? No. Would it be one of those soulless basement restaurants with the ambience of a doctors’ waiting room? No. Would there be a dish involving prawns and chilli? Yes.

For those who remember when downstairs was an extension of the shop, the attempt to imbue it with atmosphere is impressive. Dark wood tables, and some Farrow & Ballesque paintwork make it an appealing venue, although one wouldn’t want to be the only couple there I suspect.

The menu is oddly imbalanced, with just six starters and five desserts but 13 main courses, which are largely chargrilled meat dishes (which meats? All.). Almost all come with the same vegetables – in our case sautéed new potatoes and a selection of (very nice as it turned out) seasonal veg. There are vegetarian options, such as the ultimate ironic dish of “spelt spagueti”.

To kick off, four of us dived into the borscht, which met with universal approval. It was not the beetroot purée that some were used to, but a thinner soup laden with pieces of beetroot at the bottom. Everyone was impressed. My own wild boar paté was good, with the right proportion of pate to toast.

Brad‘s houmous/pita/olives combo was similarly well balanced – a rare occurrence in my experience. Sue opted for the sweet chilli prawns, avocado and garlic bread. Having just returned from Australia she probably expected something light – Asian fusion perhaps. Prawns and salad and some garlic bread drizzled with some chilli sauce didn’t quite cut it. Spot the mistake? Yes, she did too. We asked our gangly slighty awkward waiter about the avocado and he disappeared. “Perhaps he’ll just bring you a whole one,” I said. Perhaps he heard me, as a few minutes later when the plate was nearly clean, a small dish with six slices of avocado appeared. Classy.

For main course, meat was the order of the day. James had sirloin steak (very thick and cooked correctly to order), Sue had lamb (from the world’s largest lamb clearly), Brad had chicken stuffed with Brie (for an extra £2 you can specify organic chicken), Jane and I both had the duck, which was nice, but mine at least cooked a little longer than I’d asked for. Sarah had calves liver, or possibly several calves’ livers, on a bed of mashed potato, and Tom had baked haddock (and the cleanest plate at the end of the day).

The food was generally well flavoured and, with almost all dishes under £10, definitely good value. In fact, there was really too much for almost all of us and perhaps separate shared dishes of the potatoes in particular would have made for less overwhelming plates of food.

There was a long pause and some waving at the security cameras before we got offered dessert – we chose to share three between us – a cheesecake, a honey & carrot cake, and a chocolate cake. All were excellent. Dessert wine seemed to come in larger measures than is customary (no-one complained) and by the end of the meal everyone could safely say that midnight snacking would not be required.

The bill was just £30 a head, including service and three bottles of wine – a very serviceable house red and two bottles of an acceptable if not outstanding Rioja. Service definitely let the place down – our waiter was well meaning but along with the avocado incident, we had to ask for things a couple of times and it wasn’t up to the standard of the food. But quibbles aside, for some decent food served in generous portions, this is well worth having in your back pocket next time your friends venture up to West Hampstead.

Food 7.0
Service 5.1
Value 8.7
Overall 8.0
Good for: hungry people
Bad for: people in a hurry
202 West End Lane
West Hampstead
London, NW6 1SG
T: 0207 433 3733

West Hampstead bookshop “lock-in” success

Last night saw an experiment in West Hampstead. West End Lane Books threw its doors open from 9 to 10pm to @WHampstead twitter followers (and a few others!). There was wine, there was chat, there was 15 percent off everything. A dozen or so #whampers decided that the election debate on TV wasn’t enough of a lure (or recorded it) and getting to know a few fellow locals was a far better option.

It was great to see a mix of familiar faces such as @bubela, @TheWetFishCafe and @SamWong1 along with some first-time whampeventers including @designbyday, @jenny23232323 and @tractorgirlie.

Photo by @designbyday. Original here

Plenty of books were bought (lets not forget that if we want to keep our independent bookshops we do, at least occasionally, have to buy books from them and not Amazon), a reasonable amount of wine was drunk, and hopefully everyone had a good time!

Other bookshop / @WHampstead tie-ins are being mooted, so keep your eyes peeled and follow the #whampbooks hashtag. The bookshop also organises lots of its own events.

West Hampstead area forum report

Transport, Tesco, important recycling news, the library and schools. It can only have been a West Hampstead area forum. #Whamper @Marciamac31 went along to the meeting last Tuesday and reports back

“Unfortunately, nothing new on the tube closures: Keith Moffitt, council leader, said they will ‘keep plugging away’ at TfL, particularly to try to prevent several lines being closed at once. Meanwhile, Camden is trying to ‘manage the traffic’ in a way that will make it easier for replacement buses to move around, and Moffitt also said he would contact TfL to try to fulfil requests from the floor for a senior executive from TfL to speak at an area forum; last time they sent a junior who was just a little out of his depth.

Tesco‘s new store on Fortune Green Road – the second opened in West Hampstaed within a year and just a few minutes’ walk from the first – raised hackles throughout the audience. Councillor Flick Rea made it clear that there was nothing Camden could do to stop Tesco going into the new development because planning for A1 retail use had already been given; councils do not have the power to decide what type of retailer goes into the space. Camden could have some impact on unloading times, but the planning permission  includes permission to load on the street from 8.00-18.00 weekdays and 8.00-16.00 Sundays. Permitted unloading hours on West End Lane will be changed from a 9.30 start to 10.00 in an attempt to ease rush hour congestion.

Camden – and local residents – could also hit back by trying to stop the sale of alcohol from 6.00-23.00. An application is being considered: if you object, write to the local licensing authority now. Better still, vote with your feet and your pocket: if you object to Tesco, don’t shop there.

Recycling in Camden is turning over a new leaf in June when food waste will be collected separately from ordinary rubbish. Senior recycling Officer Claire Howard explained that households – but not blocks of flats – will be given a medium sizes brown bin for food waste and a small one to keep in the kitchen, the idea being you transfer whatever is in the small bin into the one outside. Camden seems to have ignored the needs of flats in converted houses, though: in my building of four flats, we have four green recycling boxes, four rubbish bins – and no room whatsoever for anything else.

In addition to the food waste boxes, households will be given separate blue bags for paper and card, which makes up the majority of recycled material. In other words, we are going to have to separate all our recycling. As some compensation, white sacks for garden waste will be delivered and collected every week. The council insists the different types of collected material will not be put in the same lorry.

West Hampstead library will be closed 10-23 May for refurbishment, which, said Mike Clark, head of Library Customer Service, will include a new layout, making it easier to find what we want; new stock and a new stock security system; new enquiry counter; and self-service kiosks. Wifi is also going to be installed – despite the fact that users of the existing computers complain the network is down more times than it is up.

I do feel sorry for librarians and their bosses when I listen to some of the complaints voiced at the forum. One resident moaned about students taking over the library to study, surely one of the reasons why libraries were invented in the first place!

Louise Trewevas, communications manager, discussed the highlights of the new UCL Academy being built at Swiss Cottage, which will also lead to a new school for the deaf, to replace the existing building on the site earmarked for the Academy. Hampstead School will get some of the £200m Camden has to invest in schools, money that will be used to upgrade the arts and sports facilities. The community could benefit as Hampstead School plans to make its swimming pool available to the public. Parents interested in hearing more about the UCL Academy should attend the meetings on 17 and 18 March at the existing Swiss Cottage school; each day will feature a presentation by a different developer.

Finally, the first AGM of the new WH Community Association is being held at 8.00 on 9 March at the West Hampstead library.”

West Hampstead Community Monday

Anyone interested in all things #whamp was pulled in three directions on Monday. At one end of town there was an anti-Tesco group meeting in Walnut. A little further down West End Lane, many #whampers were tucking in to some lovely food and wine at The Wet Fish Café, and raising money for #whampforgood cause The Winch. And then further down still, Tory PPC Chris Philp was hosting an open meeting for residents to talk to representatives from TfL, TubeLines, and Network Rail about the various #whamptravel problems facing the area.

Of course I couldn’t be in three places at once and as I was understudy for The Winch’s Paul Perkins at The Wet Fish (plus I can’t say no to some decent wine), I was there. But never fear… where there’s a #whamper there’s a way and Nick (@fac203) was at the travel meeting and took excellent notes, which are distilled here, with a focus on the tube rather than the rail issues (none of which were new).

The panel included Kevin Bootle – Jubilee Line Manager for London Underground, and Richard Hoare – Jubilee Line Project Manager for TubeLines. Brian Coleman, Conservative London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, was also present

The Jubilee line is the fastest growing line, in terms of passenger numbers, on the network. The existing signalling system constrains the network and is the key element being replaced in the current programme. The new system will allow for 30 trains/hr each way.

TfL stated it has an obligation to provide the closures required for TubeLines to complete its work. The weekend closures are for testing the new signalling system and software, along with driver training. Tube Lines accepts that the works are being delivered late and blames problems with its signals sub-contractor. It is now aiming for a May completion date but says it has October as a worst case. The weekend closures are set to run until early April 2010.

The proximity of the Metropolitan and Jubilee line tracks is causing some of the Met Line closures on the same weekends. Therefore, if the Jubilee Line programme is delayed further, the Met Line will suffer too.

Questions from the floor:
On co-ordination. There is an Optimising Group within TfL that co-ordinates all line closures to minimise impact. This response was met with some derision from the audience. TubeLines has a budget for “lost customer hours” which it says has not been exceeded, even with the overruns. [Ed: this seems strange. Suggests that buffer in the PPP contract is far too generous].

On step-free access. This is going nowhere, due to the shortfall in TfL’s budget, which was put by Brian Coleman at £3 billion. He also stated that fare revenues were down by 10% in 2009. [Ed: see this article by BorisWatch about the shortfall, although since that was written last month, it has apparently mushroomed]

On compensation for passengers & businesses (from Cllr Keith Moffitt). This was to some extent deflected but generally the answer seemed to be that as the replacement buses had to be run and this cost money, no offer of compensation would be made.

On why works are not carried out in the evening like on the Victoria line (from Cllr John Bryant) : Both TfL and TubeLines said they had looked at this, but it was not economically viable on the Jubilee line. [Ed: at my meeting with TfL, they also said they’d looked at this, but the time/cost of moving equipment on/off track meant it wasn’t an option. Although if it’s mostly signal/software testing at this stage, does that still hold true?]

On Northern Line closures based on recent press coverage: TubeLines has requested 82 weekend closures, plus early closing in the evenings. There was no comment on the reported 15-20 weekends that TfL has actually granted.

On why more leaflets not provided: TfL said it didn’t think they were useful to customers as they were generally discarded. [Nick: maybe the information isn’t provided in a useful way or answers the questions they have]

On Easter closures: The Jubilee Line will be closed for the whole Easter weekend (Easter Sunday is April 4th)

TubeLines pointed out that they were “not the right people to ask” for a lot of the questions being raised. They also stated that TfL had not given them the closures requested to comply with their programme [Nick: sounds like the internal problems are rumbling on]. TubeLines said it now has all the closures it needs to complete the work. [Ed: then why still the mystery over whether it will be May or October!?]

Nick’s summary: Although some interesting information came out of this, TubeLines were not the right people for a number of the more general questions and certainly regarding questions about the Overground, Met and Bakerloo lines, which do not fall within its remit. Overall, plenty of good questions and very few good answers.

Separately, there may be major roadworks on Finchley Road coming up soon, which will have an additional impact on travel in the area, especially if they are not properly co-ordinated with the tube/rail work.

Big thanks to Nick for reporting on the meeting. If anyone else was there and has anything to add, please get in touch. You can read Chris Philp’s blog about the evening too, which contains some other details about what was discussed.

Whampcarol success despite the cold

Tuesday night was #whampcarol night. Clear skies meant a cold night and, with the bridge still closed due to the flooding, West End Lane was eerily quiet with minimal traffic and surprisingly few pedestrians.

Undetterred, the band (the magnificent @eastlondonbrass) arrived and together with @helenstone, @gitfinger and my fellow mince-pie maker @SarahReardon, we set up our stall. Even before we’d started playing, people were generously giving up their small change to the two charities: The Winch and the band itself, which works with kids in east London.

As the cold fingers worked their way through Christmas classics there was a regular stream of donations.

The Holly & The Ivy, “live” from West End Lane (thanks to @gitfinger).
Listen! We had both sides of the road covered so no-one could miss us and despite the quiet evening the hit-rate was high. A small cheer went up when the first £5 note was pushed into the collecting tin, but it wasn’t to be the only one. After almost 90 minutes playing and with the temperature dropping we decided enough was enough and we’d leave the people of West End Lane in peace. We hurried to the Alice House to defrost, taking our table and of course instruments in with us. One table started chatting to us and suddenly we were offered £60 to play two carols right there. The bar manager very graciously agreed we could, and our pot was £60 bigger. Thank you very much indeed to that generous man. We raised just shy of £250, which was outstanding for such a quiet evening. Already there was talk as to how we could make next year’s bigger and better. Thank you to everyone who took part, and especially to all the people who gave money. We really appreciate it.

Photos courtesy of @gitfinger and @helenstone

The Czech & Slovak National House restaurant

Former Czech president Václav Havel smiled down at us from the wall. How could we fail to fall in love with the food and flock wallpaper?

We were guided through to the high-ceilinged dining room because we were interrupting the Czech sitcom on TV in the bar, or at risk of waking the guy slumped on the sofa. “It’s a bit like being in an old-fashioned hotel by the sea,” said Helen to nods of agreement. Sarah nodded too, but it was harder to see because she was standing up. Having lost the original reservation, the restaurant still managed to lay the table for only 7 rather than 8. Chairs were found, order was restored, beer was drunk.

The fin-de-siècle atmosphere of the parlour was heightened by the glamorous guests at the private party in the room next door whose beautiful dresses, elegant gloves and sharp tuxedos occasionally tumbled into the lobby. Bilingual conversations floated in to the restaurant, which was far more segregated between our raucous English chatter and the quiet Czech discussions at tables around us.A selection of starters appeared; insipid against the dark velvet of the walls, except for the Utopenec – a crimson mutant sausage designed to warn adolescent boys of the dangers of getting too close to the reactor. The Šopsky salad went down well, as did the potato pancake, which tasted much better than it looked. The avocado salad sadly looked more appetizing than it tasted – an avocado that requires a steak knife is never a treat.

Try as we might we just couldn’t polish off the last piece of fried bread topped with crumbled cheddar and the waiter punished us by leaving it on the table forlornly for the rest of the meal. Main courses arrived, ticking all the boxes in the I-Spy Book of Mitteleurope cuisine. There was goulash, there were schnitzels, there was wild boar, there was goose, there was sauerkraut, there were dumplings and there was Quorn. Yes. Quorn. In schnitzel form. More than that it was a Quorn “Club” Schnitzel, which meant it was liberally covered with – wait for it – crumbled cheddar. For real. Is this really traditional or did they just massively overorder the cheese this week?
Mark claimed his goose was “ethnically authentic” although his credentials for judging remained murky. If my goose was ethnically authentic, then I feel sorry for the Czechs. It was inedible. The meat was not so much dry as arid, while the sauerkraut had been lost in translation as it was horribly sweet. Dom manfully fought his way through a chicken club schnitzel – cheddar and all. Lisa said her Wiener schnitzel wasn’t as good as ones she’d had in Vienna (perhaps unsurprisingly). Matt barely touched his goulash, which “tasted like a school beef curry but, y’know, not spicy”. Helen declared the Quorn club schnitzel “excellent”, albeit with a deadpan expression that begged the question. Sarah’s chicken club schnitzel was “guilty pleasure comfort food”. Jerry’s wild boar and cream sauce had looked the best dish on the table and, based on his big smile and clean plate, it was clear what everyone would order should there ever be a return visit.

The bill (cash only) came to £153 for 8, service not included. Despite some disappointing food, the overall atmosphere was appealing in a mildly kitsch and unintentionally ironic sort of way. Quite what Václav would make of it I’m not sure – if he really liked crumbled cheddar then he’d probably love it, maybe write a play about it and thus cement its place in history. Which would be fitting, as the place feels far more rooted in the past than as a part of London’s contemporary multicultural cuisine.
Food 5.5
Service 6.1
Atmosphere 7.1
Overall impression 6.1
Good for: wild boar and nostalgia
Bad for: vegans
Czech Club Restaurant
74 West End Lane
London NW6 2LX
T: 0207 372 1193

(all photos courtesy of Jerry Barnett)

Czech and Slovak House on Urbanspoon

Alfred Court

Some progress on finding out what is happening with the commercial space at Alfred Court on Fortune Green Road. I just spoke to one of the agents who couldn’t reveal details yet as deals have not been finalised.

What he could tell me, however, is that there is planning permission for retail, restaurant, and gym use (A1, A3 and D2 if you’re a planning geek). And that there is a clear recognition that there is not the footfall to attract big mainstream chains. The aim is to “create something special,” and it sounds like there may be a collection of different outlets rather than, say, one big retailer.

It’s going to be 3–4 weeks before the first transactions are completed, at which time I should find out exactly what is moving in.

So, no definite news, but an indication of the direction things are taking.

Newcommers [sic] update: New Katz on the block

My anonymous commenter on the blog below mentioned that the Prime video rental site had permission to be changed from retail use to professional services use. A quick look at Camden’s planning website in fact revealed that Black Katz letting agents requested the change of use. The full application can be found here for those that want the details (the “letter” is the most interesting bit).

Presumably this means Black Katz closing its branch on Broadhurst Gardens which, if nothing else changes, would leave four empty units on the south side of the road (along with Marios, the former café next to the dry cleaners, and the small Broadwell Parade unit next to the florists).

Newcommers [sic]

A few new faces on West End Lane, and a continuing mystery in Fortune Green.

Alexis the bakery up the north end of West End Lane has shut. To be replaced by… a bakery. But a bright orange bakery, if that makes any difference. There’s a Dylan’s already in Willesden (170 Church Rd), so presumably orange is a tried and tested formula. The West Hampstead one hasn’t opened yet, so no review but here’s a picture of it in all its orangeness.

(by the way, the pharmacy next door looks like it’s closing down – it’s not, it’s just being refitted).

Further down towards the tube station, the unit that was X10 computers (a strange den of chipboards, cables and the owner’s aphorisms, which acted as some sort of test as to your worthiness as a customer) closed a few weeks ago. It has reopened as Matrix. Nice to see the “x” theme being carried through there. This one has nothing to do with motherboards and hard drives and everything to do with nails and extensions [CORRECTION: it appears to be just a hair salon, not a nail bar]. Perhaps it will make up for the nail bar that closed earlier in the year on Broadhurst Gardens.

Regular readers will remember the Photo of the Week from Digest No.2. Here it is again to refresh your memories.

Of course, they couldn’t possibly leave such a huge billboard up with such a bad typo on it, so the board has been changed.

To this. Oh dear.

The friendly girls who work in that teeny-tiny branch of Goldschmidt & Howland next door gave me a wry smile when I asked about it. It’s going to be redone again apparently.

I was actually in their really very small space to try and solve the burning issue of the day: what is the retail space going to be in the very development advertised above. Rumours (some started by @bubela‘s local shopkeepers again) have been pinging around, and as G&H are selling the flats I thought they might know. They don’t. They did try and find out though and I spoke to Sam from their Hampstead sales office who explained that they weren’t responsible for the non-residential units and he couldn’t say for sure what would be there. The consensus in the office was that a gym/health club was pretty much a given. There was also talk that there might be some sort of mother/baby centre (whatever exactly that might be), and a shop. But what the shop was no-one seemed sure. Fear not, I’m still on the case and if I find anything out I shall let you know – and if you hear anything then do pass it on.

For what it’s worth, my hunch would be that something like a Spar is the most likley. I would be surprised if a Waitrose/M&S would move there as it lacks the footfall they need. Would Tesco’s really open somewhere quite so close to its Express store on West End Lane? And would Sainsbury’s open a Local quite so close to a Tesco Express? My money is on a Spar or another of the franchise operations, which can be half-way decent when they are in ok areas.

Finally, there’s the unit on West End Lane next to Starbucks that was Prime internet café and DVD/video rental. It’s been closed for a while and is being refitted at the moment. Place your bets for what will move in there. My guess is that it might stay empty for a little while. But I’ll try and find out when I get the chance.

Calculating Criminals

If you live around West Hampstead, you’ll know that it feels fairly safe around here. Of course, we’re still in an inner-London borough and it’s not as if you’d leave you front door open but I never worry about personal attacks here any more than I would anywhere else.

This is why the news earlier in the week of armed men running through the leafy streets of West Hampstead in broad daylight came as such a surprise. The BBC, Camden New Journal and the Ham & High all reported the story (even the Daily Mail covered it), which was tweeted live by some my followers.

In the wake of this story, the West Hampstead Conservative Group posted a message on twitter saying crime was a “serious issue” in West Hampstead, later clarifying that “burglary rates and car vehicle theft rates are higher in proportion to other areas in the immediate vicinty.”

A visit to the Metropolitan Police’s website confirms this statistic. But statistics are funny things. It’s possible to cut stats in all manner of ways.

To start with, only Westminster has a worse crime rate of the Met’s boroughs. Camden’s poor performance is largely due to its central London wards of Holborn and Bloomsbury, together with the well-known problems of Camden Town. Compared to these hotspots, West Hampstead fares well but they are hardly a good benchmark. Of Camden’s 18 wards, West Hampstead has the 9th lowest crime rate. Of course the West Hampstead ward does not equate exactly with the area people think of as “West Hampstead”. The other local wards in Camden are Fortune Green (2nd lowest), parts of Swiss Cottage (6th lowest) and Kilburn (14th lowest/5th highest).

Lets look at different types of crime, specifically those that are crimes against people: personal robbery and violent crimes. I accept (and know from personal experience) that burglaries and thefts are unpleasant experiences for the victims. We should work hard to minimize these crimes, but they are part and parcel of living in a big city. I am far more concerned with robbery and violent crime, which would make me feel unsafe walking around the area.

In August 2009, there was one personal robbery in the West Hampstead ward. In fact, it ranked as the second safest ward in the borough on this measure. Taking a longer perspective, we can see that after a big drop in robberies from 2006/7 to 2007/8 of 55 to 30, there was a rise in 2008/9 to 34. For violent crimes, West Hampstead is the 6th lowest of the 18 wards, with both Fortune Green and Swiss Cottage ranking lower. As with robberies, there was a big dip in reported violent crimes from 06/07 to 07/08, before a small increase in 08/09. Both the Brent and Camden sides of the Kilburn High Road all ranked worse for violent crime in August 2009, and this has held true for the past three years.

Rather than dissecting the statistics every which way, one guide to the crime problems in the area is to look at the Safer Neighbourhood teams’ priorities. For West Hampstead they are burglary and motor vehicle crime. Fortune Green adds anti-social behaviour to these priorities. Kilburn’s priorities are motor vehicle crime and anti-social behaviour by groups of youths, and finally, Swiss Cottage has those two, plus burglary.

So, what does all this tell us. Crime rates are rising in Camden, unsurprising in a recession. However, West Hampstead is a long way from being a crime hotspot and in terms of personal safety, it still “feels” safe, which is important for quality of life.

What do you think? How concerned are you about crime in West Hampstead?

Camden voting patterns

Thanks to Camden Council for sending me the % of votes for the recent European elections (so far they’ve only posted total votes). And also for sending the 2004 figures. Am posting the numbers for the key parties (>2% threshhold) below:

BNP 04 1,103, 2.21%
BNP 09 1,300 2.76%

Conservatives 04 10,717, 21.43%
Conservatives 09 10,400, 22.05%

Greens 04 7,156, 14.31%
Greens 09 8,040, 17.05%

Labour 04 12,892, 25.78%
Labour 09 11,167, 23.68%

Lib Dems 04 9,612, 19.22%
Lib Dems 09 10,180, 21.58%

Respect 04 3,185, 6.37%
Respect 09 did not stand

UKIP 04 3,658, 7.31%
UKIP 09 2,720, 5.77%

Turnout 04 36.82%
Turnout 09 34.23%

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Welcome to a new blog about all things West Hampstead. Don’t expect long entries, but there’ll be comments, reviews, and musings here from time to time about all things NW6.

The blog complements the Twitter account (@WHampstead), so if you’re a fellow Tweep, follow me there too.

For the moment this is my blog, but I’m open to sharing it with other local residents who might have ideas they want to put down in writing. Send me a comment if you’re interested.